How ‘free’ are our chickens?

    Chickens

    A local organic farmer has welcomed a campaign to raise awareness that your ‘free-range’ eggs may not be as ‘free’ as you think.

    It follows the publication by the Hillside Animal Sanctuary of shocking images showing poultry being kept in extremely cramped conditions with very little daylight on a farm run by UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew, who is also the party’s official agriculture spokesperson.

    But when the RSPCA investigated Agnew’s Norfolk farm, they found no regulations had been contravened.

    Jeremy Davis, who rears a free-range flock of approximately 150 hens on Lynne’s Organic Farm, a 40-acre High Weald smallholding, told the Times: “The definition of free-range eggs is very loose.

    Guidelines

    “The hens only have to be ‘out to pasture’. What that means is they could be in a huge barn – say 15,000 chickens – and if there’s a door at the end and it goes on to green stuff then that’s classed as ‘pasture’. Chickens near the doors will be able to go out but those further inside will never do so.”

    Mr Davis’s own chickens run free in large fenced-off open spaces on his farm and his organic eggs are stamped with a label so they can be traced back to his farm should any problems occur.

    But current guidelines say chickens can still be classed as ‘free range’ if there are no more than 16,000 in a shed as long as there is some kind of access to outside.

    Every year British people eat 11.5 billion eggs. The free-range market accounts for almost half of all supermarket egg sales.

    To help meet this demand commercial food producer Fridays Ltd have submitted plans to put 64,000 chickens on an area of outstanding natural beauty in Horsmonden. But the proposal has been met with opposition from local residents.

    The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) policy director Robert Gooch told the Times: “British free-range egg producers make hen welfare their number one priority.” He also advises shoppers to look for the British Lion Mark or the RSPCA’s Freedom Food logo on egg packaging.

    “This means that the egg has been produced to higher animal welfare requirements than required by law,” he said.

    See here for our full interview with organic farmer Jeremy Davis