EU Commission hints at illegal egg trade ban

EU health commissioner John Dalli is seeking a restriction on trade in illegal eggs from 1 January 2012, with eggs from conventional cages having to stay in the member state in which they are produced and only used for processing.

Addressing the European parliament’s agriculture committee in Brussels, he identified 12 member states which had either failed to give any data, or had admitted they would not be fully compliant with the new rules by the end of the year.

The “single dimensional” solution, he said, would be to go to the lawyers, get them to declare the caged hens illegal and destroy all their eggs.

But the problem was multi-dimensional and required a political solution that also took into account the economic situation of non-compliant member states, “some of which are in deep crisis”, and the likely impact on the price of eggs to consumers.

“What I am pushing to do – and I have not been stating this because I still do not have the comfort of a legal position for doing this – is to contain any eggs that are not produced according to the new Directive within their own territory, useable only for production, not consumption,” he told the MEPs.

“This is the solution I see, that would protect egg producers who have invested in their own country, so that they would not have competitors’ eggs come in at lower cost.

“It is not the solution I can promise you. But I am working with my services and member states to find a solution within this framework.”

Mr Dalli’s comments followed a barrage of questions from MEPs, who had accused him of coming up with nothing new and offering “strong words and no action”.

Opening the debate, Mr Dalli had restated that the EU Commission had no intention of extending the deadline for the introduction of the conventional cage ban beyond 1 January 2012.

He was also going to step up checks on farms in targeted member states. “Based on the outcome of these audits, the commission will not hesitate to start infringement proceedings where appropriate in 2012.”

But Dutch MEP Esther de Lange said this legal process was far too slow and would only penalise the member state, not the illegal egg producer. “It will send them the signal that they have another three or four years.”

UK Conservative MEP James Nicholson wanted to know if the commission would back national governments who used their own powers to ban imports from member states which were producing illegal eggs. Mr Dalli did not comment on this.

Hungarian MEP, Bela Glattfelder said most producers in his country were converting, and their old cages were being exported to Ukraine, which was expected to send the eggs back to Hungary, where consumers did not have enough money to pay for higher welfare eggs.

• Got a view on the conventional cage ban? Is the EU Commission doing enough? Take part in our forum on the Poultry Platform.