FREE RANGE egg producers are unhappy with the RSPCA’s new requirement that hens supplying its 'Freedom Food' assurance label must have access to aerial perching.

According to British Free Range Egg Producers Association, obliging small egg businesses currently running flat deck systems to install a minimum of eight centimetres of perch per bird will do nothing to improve hen welfare, but will incur 'huge' practical difficulties and unnecessary costs.

BFREPA’s chief executive Robert Gooch said: “We are opposed to this requirement on a number of levels, with hen welfare being our primary concern.

“The evidence we have seen from Bristol University shows that fitting large amounts of aerial perching can lead to an increase in keel bone damage to hens," claimed Mr Gooch. "It’s a welfare concern that we would expect any organisation – particularly the RSPCA – to recognise.

“At a practical level this will also cause huge difficulties for those retrofitting perches to sheds that weren’t designed for them and are likely to hamper daily management procedures.”

Between 30% and 40% of BFREPA’s members are understood to be affected by the changes – approximately 250 producers – who now have until August 2018 to comply if they want to keep enjoying the marketing power of the Freedom Foods label.

“Producers using flat deck systems are already competing in a tough market and are generally operating at a smaller scale compared to multi-tier producers,” added Mr Gooch. “Ramping up additional costs and requirements on these producers is only going to add pressure to these businesses and dissuade them from investing in their futures.”