Fears For Farmers Over EU Battery Eggs
British farmers will lose out to foreign producers thanks to an EU directive prohibiting the farming of ‘battery’ eggs, claims a report published by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA).
Caged hens must be kept in ‘enriched’ cages, according to the new laws. They must also be allowed a nest, perching space, litter to allow pecking and scratching, and unrestricted access to a feed trough. Their cages are legally required to be 20 per cent bigger.
Around one third of European egg production will not comply with the the animal welfare legislation by the deadline on January 1st 2012.
Up to £400 million has already been spent by British farmers to improve conditions for the hens, but there are now fears that eggs produced overseas that do not have to conform to the rules will undercut British produce.
EFRA Committee chair Anne McIntosh MP said: “That money will be wasted and UK producers will be left at a competitive disadvantage if cheaper, illegal and non-compliant shell eggs and egg products can be imported to the UK from other European countries.”
Philip Clarke, Poultry Editor of Farmers Weekly, told The Huffington Post UK:
“Egg producers are very concerned about this. The egg market has been in surplus for about twelve months now, which has put prices under pressure. Egg producers have already been operating on losses because of the higher price of feed. Farmers feel there is a dark cloud on the horizon for if the market is going to be flooded with cheaper illegal eggs.”
European countries have had since 1999 to prepare for the changes. However, ethical farming pressure group ‘Compassion in World Farming’ says that Italy and Spain are two nations still unable to supply reliable figures of battery hens to the commission.
There will still be an estimated 6.1 million French hens in barren battery cages at the turn of the year. Additionally 2.5 million or about a third of Portuguese hens will remain in battery cages, as well as 4.1 million Polish hens.
By contrast, the UK will be 100 per cent compliant by the deadline. Talking to the Huffington Post UK, Ann McIntosh, MP and chair of the EFRA committee said:
“I am very proud that eggs in this country and in my constituency reach the highest possible production levels. No one is arguing that British Farmers should not comply with the ruling.
"We believe it should be perfectly possible for the government to produce an intra-trade community ban. Such bans have happened frequently on animal safety grounds, for example, when British beef was banned due to BSE scares. This would be the first measure on animal welfare grounds.”
The report suggests that intra-trade bans should be imposed, and adds that it wants the EU commission to launch infraction proceedings against non-compliant countries.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) have welcomed the report. NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns said:
“We are very pleased with the findings and recommendations from EFRA as it comes after a lot of hard lobbying work from the NFU.
Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor of CIWF, said that the EU commission should focus on policing the rules because intra-trade bans ignored the welfare of European hens. Speaking to the Huffington Post UK he said:
“Banning the sale of battery eggs already exist under the ‘egg-marketing’ heading of the EU directive. Further measures are useless if attention is not paid to practical enforcement.”
However there is a grey area for eggs coming in through non EU countries and illegal eggs sneaking through in powder and liquid form, e.g. in ready meals. McIntosh said that in this case policy should be incorporated into trade agreements, through world trade organisations rather than EU directives.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) focused on the purchasers, saying:
"British retailers can use their considerable marketing power to support farmers who have disposed of battery cages by committing to sourcing only cage-free eggs."
The European commission said it was up to member states to ensure that recalcitrant eggs standards were not marketable.
The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs said:
"We are pressing the European commission to take action to ensure compliance with the 2012 deadline and will keep this pressure up."