The NFU is calling on the RSPCA to relax its stocking density rule and allow the free range egg sector to expand and meet rising consumer demand.

At its latest Poultry board meeting, the NFU has decided to push for a doubling of the maximum range density allowed under the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme.

Freedom Food density

As NFU chief poultry adviser Rob Newbery explained, the current Freedom Food density on the range is 1000 birds/ha (405/acre), while the EU legal limit is 2500/ha (1012/acre).

“Relaxing the upper maximum to 2000/ha would allow producers to scale up on the existing range area without being detrimental to welfare.”

New free range units

He stressed that it takes a long time to set up new free range units, securing planning permission and then putting the infrastructure in place. Furthermore, margins are slim enough.

“By relaxing the limit, we would therefore get more value from existing producers and it would mean more free range eggs for consumers, so consumers would benefit too.”

He argues that by adopting a 2000/ha limit, producers can still for health reasons rotate flocks around paddocks. And being below the EU 2500/ha limit, it still allows differentiation from imported eggs.

“Many members are keen to see the change, allowing the sector to compete with imported eggs produced at the higher 2500/ha rate. Still point of difference.”