British eggs are an excellent product with bright prospects, but only with good government support, savvy marketing and a fair price can the industry weather the oversupply situation and the volatility in the commodities markets, according to one MP.
Addressing the recent West Country Layers Association (WCLA) conference in Cullompton, Devon, local MP Neil Parish pointed out that the global egg market was on a positive trajectory, as population increased and eggs provided an affordable and efficiently-produced form of dietary protein.
British eggs were among the best in the world, he added, with high standards of safety and welfare. This had been achieved with virtually no subsidy, which had stood the industry in good stead to create a self-sustaining and competitive product.
Producers would be helped by a new code of British labelling, while the recent draft Bill for a new “grocery foods adjudicator” would help prevent abuses of power by the supermarkets, said Mr Parish.
The positive outlook for eggs was reiterated by British Egg Industry Council chief executive Mark Williams. The UK now had the fifth largest egg industry in Europe, and had the biggest and best free-range sector.
There was still a threat from illegal eggs post Jan-2012, however, especially to the processed food and food service areas which make up 23% and 31% of the UK market respectively.
Latest estimates suggested that about 86m hens would still be in illegal cages in mainland Europe after the conventional cage ban comes in – equivalent to nearly a quarter of the EU egg industry, he said.
Having spent over £400m on making the UK egg sector compliant, it was essential the domestic market was protected, both from illegal EU eggs and from cheaper eggs from third countries, which might come in as a result of bilateral trade agreements.
On the subject of world trade, Martin Humphrey of Humphrey Feeds warned that the cost of feed had reached a peak which may continue for some time.
As well as the dry weather, influences from further afield such as Black Sea exports, China taking 1m tonnes off the market and corn used for ethanol were also impacting the long-term highs of grain feed.
American growers were also running out of options. Having waited for rain, it was now too late for many to plant maize, and even planting soya was becoming questionable for some.
In addition, a major challenge was the susceptibility of the feed grain market to speculators from the insurance and pension funds, which could also drive prices higher.
• WCLA conferences are supported by the South West Poultry (Layers) and Game Bird Initiative, coordinated by the WCLA in partnership with Duchy College Rural Business School. This is an RDPE funded project.