Egg producers told their market is safe

UK egg producers were given clear assurances at this week’s NFU annual conference that their market would be protected when EU regulations banning conventional cages for laying hens comes in.

Concerns have been mounting that many EU countries are not nearly ready for the switch to enriched cages only from 1 January 2012.

While the UK is well on the way to completing the changeover, the British Egg Industry Council has estimated that over 100m EU layers will not meet the deadline – equivalent to almost a third of the EU flock.

Indeed this week Poland presented a report to the EU agriculture council in Brussels demanding a five-year extension to 2017.

But addressing the NFU annual conference this week, DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn said that he would keep pressing for an EU-wide ban on conventional cages from 2012.

“We are not backing down on this, but if others do, then British egg producers must not be put at a disadvantage for leading the way,” he said. “If necessary, eggs from cages that do not meet that date should not be allowed into the UK.”

These words were backed up by head of animal welfare at the EU Commission, Andrea Gavinelli.

Addressing a workshop session on animal welfare at the conference, he said there was no way the EU Commission would modify the 1 January 2012 deadline. To do so would undermine trust in the legislative process.

He also indicated that the EU would take steps to ensure that producers who had invested in upgrading their systems would be rewarded, by having a better market for their eggs.

NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns had previously told a conference breakout session that, with the industry spending up to £400m on converting units from conventional to enriched cages, it was essential markets were not then undermined by imports from countries that failed to apply the same welfare standards.

“I am very concerned that, with 100m laying hens still in conventional cages after 1 January 2012, the cowboys will import cheap eggs from places like Poland and sell them in boxes that are indistinguishable from British eggs.

“We are going to Brussels in March to try and get a ban on imports of non-colony eggs. We may have lost the battle on banning cages. It is essential we now win the battle to stop any eggs from conventional cages coming in.”

North-east producer Mary Smith told the breakout session her days as an egg producer were numbered as she could not afford to invest in enriched cages. Even though she had had no complaints about her production system for two years, and she was producing a local product for a local market, the egg business was already being undermined by cowboys, she claimed.

* For more on this story, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog


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