Egg industry hits back at government move to ban conventional cages in 2012

Egg producers have reacted angrily to the UK government’s announcement that it will push ahead with the 2012 conventional cage ban regardless of whether other Member States secure a delay.

The egg industry is calling for assurances from DEFRA that it will get the same treatment as other EU members.

This follows DEFRA junior minister Lord Rooker’s keynote speech at the recent Egg and Poultry Industry Conference, where he said that “it’s [2012 cage ban] in UK legislation so it will happen and we will resist other countries pushing for any delay.”

Speaking to Poultry World, Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council believes that the situation is not as simple as Lord Rooker made out.

The UK government made a commitment to UK agriculture at the Agricultural Summit held in Downing Street in 2000 that there would be no more gold-plating of EU legislation.

eggs

“If we were to press ahead with the ban while other EU member states were allowed more time to phase out conventional cages would itself be gold-plating.”

However, this particular piece of gold-plating could finish off the UK egg sector. Mr Williams highlighted the case of Germany and Austria who have already put in place a ban on conventional cage production in advance of the EU deadline.

“Production simply moved from Germany into neighbouring countries with eggs moving across the border to satisfy continuing demand for low cost eggs [conventional cage eggs],” he said.

This is likely to happen in the UK, as despite the UK having the largest free range flock, there is still strong demand for affordable (cage) eggs. “The latest figures show that while free range accounts for a sizable chunk (see graph) of the shell egg (retail) market, cage eggs still account for 95% of foodservice and 84% for processing.

Packed eggs

One solution mooted is to have controls over the movement of conventional cage eggs into the UK. But Mr Williams explained that any moves to prevent the import of conventional cage eggs would infringe the single market, so is not possible. And there are no checks at borders to stop such movements.

Then there is the added complication of devolution. Lord Rooker hinted in his speech that he could only speak as England farm minister.

“It would be unacceptable if the Scottish Government was to allow its producers to benefit from an extension to the ban and England was not to. We see differences across the UK which could rip the sector apart,” said Mr Williams.

However, as Mr Williams stresses, the sector is not against the ban, it’s the practicality of meeting the deadline.

“We believe there is not enough time left to rehouse the 15 million UK birds in conventional cages in the time left. This is why we made a sensible proposal to the Commission that would benefit bird welfare.”

The laying hens Directive required the European Commission to make a report to the European Council of Ministers by January 2005. However, nearly three years on and the report still hasn’t been published.

“In this time, egg producers have been unwilling to make the large scale investment in either enriched cage or non-cage systems.”