Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Agriculture Senator Paul Daly says free-range poultry farmers face a significant challenge in the weeks ahead following confirmation that the Department of Agriculture is to extend housing restrictions until 30th April.

The housing restrictions, which require poultry to remain indoors at all times, were introduced on 23 December 2016 in an effort to prevent the spread of the Avian Influenza.

Senator Daly commented, “These restrictions were originally meant to expire on March 16th but the Department of Agriculture has decided to extend them in an effort to protect our poultry flocks from Avian Influenza. The restrictions are undoubtedly a necessary evil but it’s important to recognise that they are having a disproportionate effect on free-range poultry farmers who let their flock roam freely during the day.

“The extension of the housing restrictions means that poultry farmers will lose their free-range status from March 17th next. This is extremely worrying and represents a major challenge for poultry farmers and the wider agri-food sector. The Government needs to ensure that an awareness campaign is carried out so that people are given the full background as to why free-range eggs will disappear from shelves in a matter of days. It needs to be explained that the housing restrictions are a preventative measure to keep our poultry flocks safe.

“Processors and retailers also have a responsibility to work with poultry farmers during this difficult time. No attempt should be made to force down the price of eggs just because they will have to forgo free-range status for a matter of weeks. Furthermore retailers should mount an information campaign to help explain why free-range eggs will be temporarily unavailable. They need to drive home the point that these eggs remain safe thanks to the housing restrictions that are currently in place.

“I have raised this matter on a number of occasions in the Seanad and have highlighted the difficulties facing poultry farmers. Unfortunately it seems my concerns are now starting to become reality, but the damage caused by the loss of free-range status can be limited if all stakeholders work together.”