MPs slam complacency on EU cage ban


The EU Commission is sleepwalking into a potential commercial disaster that could result in unfair competition for UK egg producers, MPs have warned in a hard-hitting new report.




The investigation by the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into the impending conventional cage ban warns that around one third of Europe’s egg production will not comply with the new welfare standards when they come into force on 1 January 2012.



Belgium, Cyprus, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia are identified as countries that will definitely be non-compliant, while question marks remain over France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Spain.



“The commission has just not woken up to the impact that non-compliance with this legislation will have on egg producers in the UK and across Europe,” said committee chair Anne McIntosh.



“UK egg producers have spent around £400m to improve conditions for laying hens. That money will be wasted and UK producers will be left at a competitive disadvantage if cheaper, illegal shell eggs and egg products can be imported from other European countries.”



To deal with this, the report calls for an intra-community trade ban on non-compliant eggs and egg products, to ensure that illegal eggs do not leave the country in which they are produced.



According to the report, the EU Commission is examining whether such a restriction would be “feasible and proportionate”, both from a legal and a political perspective.



But the EFRA committee report accuses the Commission of complacency. “It has been insufficiently robust in securing the data (from member states) to assess the current trajectory to compliance. It has also shown little enthusiasm for establishing tough enforcement measures in the face of certain non-compliance by several member states.”



In response, the MPs have called on DEFRA to confirm whether it would be possible for the UK to take unilateral action and ban non-compliant egg imports.



In the course of oral evidence to the committee, DEFRA farming minister Jim Paice said he may take unilateral action, but was not prepared to say what that action might be.



The EFRA report also calls for a robust inspection regime across Europe, and for the EU Commission to take swift action if non-compliance is uncovered.



But it dismissed the idea of introducing a separate production code to help identify non-compliant eggs, on the basis that producers of illegal eggs would be unlikely to label them as being illegal.



INDUSTRY REACTION


The report has welcomed by both the NFU and the RSPCA, which support a ban on non-compliant eggs.



“The committee shares our view on a number of issues, such as the need to develop a strategy for non-compliance – something that we all agree should have been done by the EU Commission already to act as a deterrent and to recognise the potential damage that might be caused to compliant producers,” said NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns.



“We also welcome the committee’s recommendation that the Commission initiates infraction procedures against member states with non-compliant producers, and that the powers of the Food and Veterinary Office are strengthened to help ensure all member states have robust inspection procedures in place to enforce compliance.”



RSPCA senior scientific officer Alice Clark said: “We are very concerned that UK shoppers could unwittingly buy illegal eggs, or products with eggs in, that do not even meet minimum legal welfare standards as upheld in the UK.



“It is absolutely crucial that the EU Commission introduces a European ban on illegal eggs being sold outside the country where they are produced.”


What do you think of the 2012 conventional cage-ban? Do you think UK producers are going to suffer because some member states are unprepaired? Tell us your views on the FWI Forums.

See more