Birdbrains! Labelling loophole means meat from chickens that have never been outside is sold as ‘free range’
Meat from chickens which have never been outside is being sold as ‘free range’ due to a loophole in welfare and labelling laws.
The emergence of bird flu last November saw ministers order chickens to be kept in barns to prevent contact with wild birds.
Farms lost the right to label eggs as ‘free range’ but the rules do not cover birds raised for meat. The loophole stems from the fact chicken producers can retain free-range status if birds are not kept inside for more than 12 weeks.
Chickens raised for meat, which are killed at eight weeks old, were labelled as free range because the status applies if birds are not kept inside for more than 12 weeks
Chickens that produce eggs live up to 72 weeks but those bred for meat are killed after eight weeks.
Richard Griffiths, of the British Poultry Council, said other ‘free-range’ aspects such as the breed, the fact it’s slower growing and has more space – ‘remain the same’.
He said: ‘When these controls were first implemented it was never expected that a housing order would last even up to 12 weeks.
Farms lost the right to label eggs as ‘free range’ when the emergence of bird flu last November saw ministers order chickens to be kept in barns to prevent contact with wild birds
‘Historically there have been far fewer outbreaks, generally in autumn and spring.’
He added there are other aspects, beyond allowing the bird access to the outside, which define the chickens as free range.
‘The other aspects of what defines a free-range bird – the breed, the fact it is slower growing and has greater indoor space – remain the same,’ he said.
‘It’s as close as we can get while being able to try to stamp out bird flu.’
Mr Griffiths added: ‘It’s not perfect but disease control has to be the priority.
‘The alternative would probably be much less free-range production in the UK.’