Why free range eggs will soon be back on shelves - and why they went missing in the first place

Free range eggs went missing at the end of last year. Credit: PA

Free-range eggs will soon return to supermarket shelves after almost six months of them being unavailable - but why were they missing in the first place?

The UK suffered from a major bird flu pandemic last year and the government was forced to implement drastic measures to try and stop the spread to poultry flocks.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) forced all chickens to be kept indoors in November 2021.

From May 2, poultry and other captive birds will no longer need to be housed, unless they are in a protection zone, and will be allowed to be kept outside.

For an egg to be considered free-range the chicken needs to be able to roam outside for some of its time.

For the past month, free-range eggs had to have stickers or labels marking them as “barn eggs” and supermarkets had to display information in-store and online to tell consumers what is happening and why.

For eggs to be free range they must be allowed outside. Credit: PA

It is expected the free-range eggs will start to appear on shelves within a few days from May 2, however, eggs laid before then that are still labelled as “barn eggs” may take a few days to sell.

The risk of bird flu has been reduced from “high” to “medium” for premises with poor biosecurity while further requirements brought in to protect flocks from the outbreak – including cleansing and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles and limiting access to non-essential people on sites – will remain in force for the next few weeks, Defra said.

In a joint statement, the four chief veterinary officers said: “Whilst the lifting of the mandatory housing measures will be welcome news to bird keepers, scrupulous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defence to help keep your birds safe.

“It is thanks to the hard work of all bird keepers and vets, who have played their part in keeping flocks safe this winter, that we are in a position to take this action. However, the recent cases of avian influenza show that it’s vital that bird keepers remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.”

The UK faced its largest-ever outbreak of bird flu with more than 100 cases confirmed across the country since late October.

Public health advice is that the risk to human health is very low.