Trouble was still brewing in the EU egg market for 2012, said British Egg Industry Industry Council (BEIC) chief executive Mark Williams.
There is too little time to clear the EU’s laying hens out of conventional cages by the deadline. “According to Brussels’ own figures, in 2006 in the EU 25 there was still 77% of the laying flock in cages, amounting to 240m-plus birds across Europe,” said Mr Williams.
The BEIC did not believe that on a pan-European basis there was now enough time. He foresaw either a big overproduction of “illegal” eggs in Europe if member states turned a blind eye or, if the ban were enforced, an acute egg shortage.
“Either way we want to avoid that,” said Mr Williams.
In the UK, up to 18m birds were still in cages: 1m in colony cages, 1m-2m in enrichable, but 15m still in conventional cages.
About 62% of the flock was in cages last year and this was still likely to remain at 35-40% by 2012. “Like all member states, we have now accepted there will be a ban on conventional cages, it’s just the timescale.”
For this reason the BEIC was still lobbying hard for an extension of the 2012 deadline, despite criticism from welfarists.
There were still other issues that needed to be resolved. One of the things that had acted as a brake on expansion into colonies has been the lack of differentiation between the conventional egg and the enriched cage egg.
Both types of egg had to carry the “No 3” mark, he said. Although a supplementary statement could be put on the pack, what was really needed was a “No 4” category for colony eggs, he claimed, so that producers who invested in colony cages now could achieve the full benefit of their investment.
“Along with colleagues in other member states, we are now pressing for this.”