UK egg farmers are outraged to learn that the RSPCA has approved European flocks under its Freedom Food assurance scheme.

But a RSPCA Freedom Food spokeswoman told Poultry World that as the assurance scheme is an EU registered trademark it is perfectly within its rights to approve EU producers.

The spokeswoman confirmed that it approved a Dutch egg farmer in July, adding to the three additional European farmers under its scheme, and had approved flocks in Ireland for years.

She added that as the assurance scheme was based on welfare standards it would look at producers from other countries, including South America and Asia, on a case-by-case basis if they demonstrated that they reached the RSPCA Freedom Food standards. 

“From our point of view we are supportive of the UK egg market but we want to see the end of battery cages,” said the spokeswoman. She argued that if supermarkets decided to import eggs from foreign Freedom Food producers then it would encourage UK producers to move from cage into free-range or barn production.

“In a way it would encourage a more level playing field,” she said. 

But Tony Burgess of Birchgrove Eggs and Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year 2006, was furious about this decision, seeing it as a “slap in the face” of Freedom Food registered UK producers. 

He argued that UK producers would be undermined by these “accredited imports”. “Supermarkets will use Freedom Food accreditation on these eggs for strong marketing campaigns to perhaps sway consumers to consider imports as acceptable.

Producers are always looking for a point of difference. If Dutch eggs are now under the Freedom Food scheme that point of difference narrows considerably,” he said.

Mr Burgess commended the RSPCA’s welfare priorities but argued that the decision to approve foreign producers was short-sighted towards existing UK Freedom Food producers.

“This decision undervalues UK produced eggs especially if their logo appears on value pack imported eggs. A value pack of free-range eggs creates a bottom line which will be used by the industry as a guideline for future pricing structure.”