Politicians, animal welfare campaigners and the UK egg industry have slated the government over its response to the treat of illegal egg imports, after the ban on battery cages came into force in January.
Jim Paice, Farming Minister said “tough action” would be taken to prevent eggs being produced in battery cages and sold in the UK.
However, the measures the minister announced fell short of those demanded by the egg industry, including a UK ban on egg products and eggs produced in the illegal system of production.
Chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), Mark Williams, said that the UK egg industry “feels totally let down by the government”.
He said, “Whilst we have received repeated platitudes of support from Defra, it has failed to back these up with any real action. We need to see a complete ban on any illegally produced eggs, egg products and foods containing illegal eggs from 1 January 2012,”
Williams said BEIC’s legal advice has “confirmed” that the government is able to enforce UK and EU law by banning illegal egg products and eggs, despite what Paice suggests.
Williams also said that the lack of controls on imported eggs used in egg mayonnaise, quiche and Scotch eggs opens the door to “a flood of cheap illegal eggs, which will undermine the British egg industry, with the possible loss of thousands of jobs”.
Charles Bourns, NFU poultry board chairman, said that NFU members would be “bitterly disappointed that it has not been possible to take tougher action”.
Bourns said, “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,”
He said that the NFU was happy to see some food manufacturers, restaurant insurance providers and UK retailers were supporting the voluntary industry ban the Government will be relying on to keep out illegal imports. But he also has the same concerns as Williams and said that there a still “a number of companies who have yet to make this commitment”.
Shadow Food and Farming Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies MP said, “People will rightly be sceptical about the Government’s plans for UV border control checks for illegal eggs”
Irranca-Davies called for the government to issue a rolling register of manufacturers and retailers who have signed up to a total ban, “so that British shoppers can have confidence they are eating eggs from happy hens”.
Stuart Agnew, UK Independence Party MEP, who is a free range egg producer in Norfolk, suggested that Paice was “fiddling while Rome burns”.
Agnew said, “Imported shell eggs are a relatively small part of the problem and UV scanning of them will only trap the unwary. Unfortunately, it will do absolutely nothing to protect British producers from potentially huge amounts of imported egg powder and processed egg products made from battery cage eggs.”
On the other hand, Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland, George Lyon, welcomed the announcement. He said “Tough action by the UK must be backed up by tough action from the European Commission”.