There is growing support for a intra-EU trade ban on conventional cage eggs after 1 January 2012, with the Northern Ireland farming minister Michelle Gildernew adding her support.

The potential ban was first mooted in a letter from DEFRA minister Jim Fitzpatrick to industry leaders.

He said: “If any other member states are allowed additional time to phase out conventional cages, the government will press the commission to act so as not to disadvantage those UK producers who have already converted out of conventional cages.

“This could be by way of an intra-community trade ban on eggs produced by hens housed in conventional cages after 1 January 2012, so they may only be sold in the member state of production.”

She was responding to fears put forward at a recent meeting with egg industry representatives, including UFU president Graham Furey, to discuss the industry’s concerns and challenges facing the sector.

She also supported the creation of a new classification for enriched colony eggs, to help consumers in making their choice. “I intend to write to the EU Commission to press for a new marketing code to be introduced in egg marketing regulations to differentiate between eggs from hens in enriched systems and those in conventional cages.

Currently all eggs produced in conventional cages and enriched colonies carry the 03 code.

The bad news was she confirmed there would be no financial help for producers phasing out conventional cages. Referring to the funding proposals announced in the south, the minister said: “The funding proposals are part of a package arising from the CAP Health Check Agreement, which included additional funding for the south through increased compulsory modulation rates.

“I want to make it clear that similar funding is not available to the north or to Britain.”

To conclude, she urged producers to press ahead with making decisions about their future and investing in alternative systems, so that they are able to meet the January 2012 deadline.