Many chicken farmers in the United States are keeping their birds inside during a spread of bird flu.
The series of outbreaks has led to the killings of 35 million farm birds in the U.S. The United States Department of Agriculture has advised farmers to keep their birds inside to avoid infection.
Specialty chicken farmers who raise free-range chickens are no exception to the policy. Free-range means the chickens move without restrictions inside and out.
So, egg sellers need to update the buying public about the new farming conditions, industry observers say.
Buyers usually pay more for eggs from these chickens than those produced on large, corporate farms. Reasons differ --- some people think organic eggs are a healthier choice while others might favor the taste. Still others might say organic eggs are a better choice for the environment or come from a more humane process.
American officials say keeping farm birds inside is the safest policy for now. They note that the entire chicken population on a single farm must be killed even if one member gets bird flu.
The virus can also infect humans, though experts say the risk is low.
In France, the flu is doing similar damage. The nation’s government has required farmers to keep chickens indoors since November.
Reuters news agency reported, however, that some stores and other businesses are still identifying the chicken products as free-range.
“I didn't know that they had to stay inside,” said Josephine Barit. The 34-year-old was looking at eggs for sale at a small store in Paris.
She said, "So it's not really 'free range' anymore?" And she added, "I suppose there is no other choice because of bird flu, but they could say so."
Animal doctors say birds that can go outside are at a much higher risk of getting bird flu because birds that travel can spread the disease.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests farmers keep birds produced for food indoors as long as the bird flu outbreak is ongoing, but has not required it.
The U.S. outbreak is the second-worst in history, with more than 35 million birds killed this year. Farmers in France have killed nearly 16 million birds to stop the spread in its worst outbreak. Infections have also hit nations including Britain, Italy and Spain.
European requirements to keep chickens indoors have left some buyers unhappy even when sellers post signs telling buyers of the change.
"At the end of the day you still pay the price of 'free-range' eggs or organic eggs when the fowls have actually never seen the sky," said Marc Dossem, a 52-year-old shopper in a large store in the French capital.
The European Union and British marketing standards permit for free-range egg-laying chickens to be kept inside for up to 16 weeks before companies must inform buyers.
U.S. officials do not require organic egg producers to inform buyers on food containers when unexpected events like bird flu change production practices, the agriculture department said.
I’m Gregory Stachel.
Tom Polansek and Sybille de La Hamaide reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
free-range – adj. allowed to move around freely: not kept in cages
organic – n. grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals
fowl – n. a bird (such as a chicken) that is raised for food
shop – v. to visit places where goods are sold in order to look at and buy things
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