UK egg producers have been urged to be vigilant and report anyone flouting the ban on conventional cages or importing illegal eggs.
Addressing this week’s Severn Valley Poultry Discussion Group, BEIC chief executive Mark Williams told producers: “We are relying on your eyes and ears.”
He said that any food manufacturers, retailers or caterers which failed to ensure the integrity of their supply chains and imported eggs from illegal battery cages could face exposure.
The conventional cage ban came into force on 1 January, but since then it has emerged that as many as 30 UK producers have still been using battery cages.
This figure is thought to have diminished, but Mr Williams said the revelation had been “highly embarrassing”.
Mr Williams was keen to reiterate that all Lion Eggs had been legal by the deadline. “If Lion producers could be legal there was no excuse for others not to be.”
He said at least 15 EU countries were noncompliant, and these included some of the largest egg producers which exported to the UK.
“Egg producers are not happy that the government has not been prepared to put in place a ban on illegal eggs and egg products, especially when BEIC’s own legal advice was that a ban could be put in place,” he told the meeting.
According to the EU Commission, the number of illegal hens in Europe stands at 51 million hens. However, this figure could be as high as 80 million, said Mr Williams, as it is possible that there is confusion between “enriched” and “enrichable” cages.
But Andrew Hignett of the Central Egg Agency said despite the number of non-compliant farms in the UK, things needed to be kept in perspective.
“Less than 1% of UK farms are illegal and that is because some producers have been let down by suppliers. It is not as bad as it sounds,” he explained.
Producers and industry leaders have also been frustrated by the news that the Czech Republic is taking a robust approach and conducting strict border controls, turning away any eggs from Poland that it believes to be illegal.
“If they can do it, why can’t we?” asked Martin Reah, a poultry farmer from Carmarthenshire.
The BEIC has already initiated the first stage of a judicial review by writing to DEFRA asking for a fuller explanation behind their decision not to ban imports. It’s response is due by 5pm on Friday 27 January. “If their response is unsatisfactory, our lawyers will be advising us on the next steps to take,” said Mr Williams.