British egg producers should take extra steps to prepare for the conventional cage ban and avoid being forced out of production as seen in Germany.

The German government is implementing the conventional cage ban three years earlier than the UK, coming into force at the end of 2009. But as Klaus Torborg of Lohmann Animal Health told a meeting of leading UK egg producers in Shropshire, a lack of preparation had resulted in an exodus of producers from the industry.

The number of layers dropped from 40m to around 33m and self-sufficiency in eggs fell from 70% to 55%. Imports have flooded in from other countries, particularly The Netherlands, which has been quicker to convert its systems.

Producers have been faced with large-scale investment, but because of high level of demand, getting the equipment supplied in the time available has been more of an issue than simply price or even preferred choice.

A further big influence on the industry has been the discounters, such as Aldi,Lidl and Netto.

“Discounters now account for around 47% of all eggs sold in Germany and for marketing and animal welfare reasons, they will not sell eggs from enriched cages. Therefore, most egg producers, despite high investment in enriched cages, will have to convert to the barn system,” he said.

Cage houses converted to the barn system hold far fewer birds, due to the lower stocking density. Therefore, many are faced with putting up new buildings if they wish to maintain their hen numbers.

Next year it is anticipated that 60% of eggs will be produced in barn systems, 20% in enriched cages and 20% from free range and organic, explained Mr Torborg.

German egg consumption is healthy with an average of 207 eggs per head per year compared with 172 in Britain. However, the discounters are likely to put increasing pressure on prices, he said.

Currently, one discounter sells barn and free-range eggs for €1.29 and €1.59 (£1.15 and £1.42) per 10, respectively. In general, producer price levels are reasonable and Mr Torborg was optimistic that if there are no big changes Germany should get back to 40m layers by 2012.