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You may have read some media coverage regarding the labelling of free range eggs in light of the current, temporary requirement for farmers to keep all birds being bred for meat and eggs indoors.

It’s an important issue and I’ve written this blog to make our position clear and to give some background on why the restrictions are in place.

Since the autumn, several outbreaks of Avian Influenza, or Bird Flu as it is often called, have been found in wild birds across Europe. This has spread to some farmed birds, including birds on a small number of UK farms, none of which supply M&S.

Because of the potential impact on birds, the government is trying to limit the spread. One of the important ways they are doing this is by implementing a housing order across the UK which requires keepers of birds to house them away from wild birds, with strict biosecurity measures in place.  

There are similar orders in place in other European countries.

In practical terms, what this means is that all the free range poultry reared for meat or egg production for all UK retailers, including M&S, have to be kept indoors. Rest assured that the facilities on M&S supplying farms are thoroughly checked as part of our Codes of Practice and we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare. 

Under the legal terms of the housing order, retailers are being guided to continue to label all free range eggs as such. This is because it is a temporary measure and one that we all hope will only be in place for a short period of time. And while the birds are being kept indoors they still have the space they need to roost and preen, and have nest boxes to lay their eggs in. The welfare standards remain significantly better than eggs from caged birds. 

As a result we’re following the guidance from the UK government and currently have no plans to change our labelling.

We will stay close to developments, our suppliers and the government. We fully support the difficult decision to implement a housing order to help prevent the spread of Avian Influenza, which can have a devastating impact on birds. By housing flocks now, farmers are not only limiting the risk for commercial bird flocks but are also helping to protect the wild bird population so important for our countryside.

As you would expect in these unusual circumstances, we’re doing all we can to support our farmers and suppliers. And, of course, this does not affect our commitment to free range. We only sell free range eggs and only use free range eggs as an ingredient in our prepared food.