THE GOVERNMENT has not been able to reach an agreement with Europe to protect egg producers from illegal eggs potentially entering the UK from next year.
British egg producers have invested £400m converting to enriched cages to comply with new European legislation coming into force on January 1. The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive bans the use of so-called barren cages (http://foodservice.footprintdev.net/news/warning-over-illegal-eggs).
However, a total of 13 Member States will not be compliant with the Directive come the turn of the year. Producers in those countries will be free to sell cheaper battery eggs much of it as liquid and powder across the EU. This could put UK producers at a competitive disadvantage and result in UK consumers eating illegally produced eggs.
Farming Minister Jim Paice had hoped to strike a deal with Europe on some form of enforcement regime to prevent producers who have not dispensed with battery cages from profiting. But time has run out, and instead the UK food industry will have to reach a voluntary consensus that it wont use eggs produced by hens in such cages.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) welcomed the enforcement measures being taken by the Government but said members are bitterly disappointed that it has not been possible to take tougher action.
We are concerned that although the Government has repeatedly pledged its support for the industry, it cannot prohibit the use of illegal egg products and food manufactured from such products. Although we are pleased to see the support of some UK retailers and food manufacturers on this, there are still a number of companies who have yet to make this commitment, explained poultry board chairman Charles Bourns.
The NFU has also called on retailers and food manufacturers to offer a fair price for all legal eggs and egg products to recognise the investment that has been made in all UK production systems in readiness for January 1.
Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said it would unthinkable if countries continuing to house hens in poor conditions were to profit from flouting the law.
With many retailers and major food suppliers putting in place stringent traceability tests to guarantee they will not supply eggs produced from illegal conventional cages or use them as ingredients in their own brand products, it will be difficult for producers who have not complied with the EU directive to find an outlet in the UK.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will use ultra violet light to identify batches of eggs that were not laid in the new, more welfare friendly cages. UV light picks up small marks left in the shell immediately after it has been laid, before it hardens. Any eggs which only show a pattern of wire marks will have been laid in the old battery cages, and will not be allowed to be sold as class A (whole) eggs.