EU cage eggs threaten UK market after 2012 deadline

The need for an intra-community trade ban on conventional cage eggs after 1 January 2012, if other member states are given more time to phase them out, is becoming clearer with new figures showing that some 120m EU layers are unlikely to meet the deadline.

In contrast, the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) is confident that the UK industry will be ready in time.

Speaking exclusively to Poultry World, chief executive of the BEIC, Mark Williams, highlighted that from 1999 to 2008, free-range (including organic) had expanded from 16.4% to 37.9% of production by volume in the UK.

“Free-range has been a huge success story. Over the same period, 2.4m cage places have been converted into enriched cages. We are aware that orders are in place for some 10m UK bird places in the next two years. This, coupled with the 2.4m birds already in enriched cages, will meet the estimated demand in 2012.”

Looking wider to the rest of the EU, he added: “I believe that it is very unlikely that all the other countries in the EU will meet the legislation in time.”

Starting from 2008 Commission figures and assuming that the overall flock size remained unchanged, he estaimates some 230m laying birds remained in conventional cage at the end of 2009.

“A best estimate is that half of these existing conventional cage bird places would be converted by the 2012 deadline. This would leave some 31% of EU layers in an ‘illegal’ system.

“This is going to be a major problem for the industry and a major problem for legislators.”

If there is no additional time given to phase out conventional cages in other member states, then there is likely to be a massive fresh egg shortage across the EU, which cannot be met by imports from third countries, due to the EU’s salmonella legislation and best-before date requirements.

Currently, only three countries – Switzerland, Croatia and Norway – are approved to send fresh eggs to the EU and they are small producers. It is likely that legislators would not allow an egg shortage to occur, so the likely outcome is that countries will be given more time. But countries like the UK who have met the deadline must be protected.

The UK industry believes that if producers in other member states need more time to move out of conventional cages, that is up to them, as long as the eggs and egg products can only be marketed in that country through an intra-community ban.

“Coupled with a ban, we need a means of differentiating enriched cage eggs from conventional cage eggs. Under the current Code 3, consumers are unable to tell the difference.”

BEIC and the UK government are together actively lobbying the EU for an intra community ban after 2012 and a Code 4 for enriched cage eggs.