Avian flu puts organic chickens in confinement from Pennsylvania to France

CHICAGO / PARIS – May 2 (Reuters) – Organic and free-range chickens have been blocked.

Laying hens that normally have access to the outside can no longer walk so freely or feel the sun on their beaks, as some American and European farmers temporarily keep their flocks indoors during lethal outbreaks of bird flu. according to egg producers and industry representatives.

The change comes as a surprise to buyers who are already paying more for eggs due to the removal of infected herds. read more Consumers pay more for special eggs, thinking they come from chickens that can come out of barns.

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U.S. observers say retailers and egg companies need to do a better job of informing customers that chickens are kept indoors, as buyers track their spending amid record world inflation of food. Keeping birds indoors is the safest thing at the moment, according to government officials, because a single case of bird flu causes the whole herd to be eliminated. The virus can also infect humans, although experts say the risk is low. Read more

In France, where the government has temporarily required farmers to keep chickens indoors since November, some retailers are challenging the obligation to publish clear information to consumers about the mandate, according to grocery store inspections conducted by Reuters.

“I didn’t know they had to stay inside,” said Josephine Barit, 34, a shopkeeper in a small Paris store who had no indication that the chickens could have been confined.

“So it’s no longer really ‘free field’?” she said. “I guess there’s no other option because of bird flu, but they could tell.”

It is believed that allowing chickens to spend time outdoors is more humane, which gives consumers some peace of mind when buying animal farm products.

Veterinarians say poultry with access to the outside are especially vulnerable to becoming infected with bird flu, officially known as highly pathogenic bird flu or IAAP, because migratory birds spread the disease. Poultry can get sick from contact with infected wild birds, their feathers or feces.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that farmers keep poultry indoors “while the HPAI outbreak is underway,” but has not required confinement.

The U.S. outbreak is the second worst in history, with more than 35 million birds exterminated this year. France has killed nearly 16 million birds in its worst outbreak ever, while infections have also affected nations such as Britain, Italy and Spain. Read more

European requirements for confining chickens have left some consumers unsatisfied even when retailers post signs warning customers of the change.

“After all, you still pay the price for free-range or organic eggs when poultry have never seen the sky,” said Marc Dossem, 52, a shopper who spoke at a large supermarket. Paris.

EU and British marketing standards allow laying hens to be released for up to 16 weeks before companies have to issue warnings to customers.

The UK has temporarily demanded that eggs from “tall” hens kept indoors be labeled “barn eggs”, but has allowed farmers to let the hens out again from May. Read more

In Spain, chickens must be kept indoors in areas of special risk and surveillance in the country, said Mar Fernández, Spanish head of the Interprofessional Organization of Eggs and Egg Products. They haven’t been inside for more than 16 weeks, he said.

“There are countries that have not had free-range hen eggs available for months,” Fernandez said. U.S. authorities do not require organic egg producers to update labels when unexpected events such as bird flu change production practices, the agriculture department said. Eggs labeled “organic” as well as “free height” must come from hens with access to the outside world in the United States.

Among the suppliers now banning access to the outdoors are Pete and Gerry’s, which it says is the largest U.S. producer of organic, free-range, and grazing eggs. The business sells eggs in stores owned by Kroger Co. (KR.N) and Whole Foods Market of Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN.O).

“We will constantly assess the risk of exposure and get them out in the sun again as soon as possible,” Pete and Gerry said.

Vital Farms Inc (VITL.O), another U.S. producer of pasture-raised eggs, said it confined chickens after the outbreaks in Europe. Both producers have online information about the switch, but their “free height” and “pasture height” labels remain the same.

Whole Foods, Kroger and Target Corp (TGT.N) did not respond to questions about whether they would issue notices to shoppers.

“Consumers should receive what they pay for and not receive the product as advertised,” said Danielle Melgar, a food advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Some European producers are resisting orders to confine poultry, despite the risks.

“Laying hens can be quite aggressive, so we let them out a little bit every day or they will kill each other,” said Emilie Ravalli, who runs an organic farm in Corcoue-sur-Logne, western France. .

But barns can be comfortable and chickens don’t always come out every day even when they can, said Gregory Martin, a poultry scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

“Confinement gives us security,” Martin said. “Only live birds produce eggs, so we like to keep our birds safe.”

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Report by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Sybille by La Hamaide in Paris Additional reports by Nigel Hunt in London and Emma Pinedo Gonzalez in Madrid; Edited by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters’ principles of trust.

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