UK farming unions are urging the government to introduce a unilateral trade ban on eggs from EU countries that fail to meet new welfare rules for laying hens which come into force next year.
The call comes following comments made by European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, John Dalli, who said he was pushing for an intra-community trade ban even though no legal basis had been granted to take such a measure. He also vowed to take infraction procedures against non-compliant member states.
Too little, too late
But Katy Lee, spokesman for the UK farming unions in Brussels, said the Commission was doing too little, too late and instead urged the UK government to take the initiative with a unilateral ban on illegal eggs.
“If commissioner Dalli believes an intra-community trade ban is the right way forward we need to get legal backing and member state support – and fast,” she said.
“It is essential that those UK producers who have invested heavily in conversion to enriched cages in order to meet the requirements of the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive are not put at a commercial disadvantage through imported non-compliant eggs.
“While the Commission can begin infraction proceedings against member states who are failing to comply, we are concerned that this process will be slow and the level of fine not enough to be enough to act as a deterrent and ensure compliance.
“The bottom line is that the commission has figures on which member states will still have hens in conventional cages but they still do not have a plan to deal with illegal eggs.
“We are therefore urging the government to work with the non-compliant states to ensure that illegal eggs do not enter the UK market place.”
Commissioner Dalli also publically named and shamed 12 member states – including France, Italy and Spain – that have either continuously failed to provide data on their cage systems or are expected to still be producing eggs from non-enriched battery cages in 2012.
Poultry farmer protests
Meanwhile UK poultry farmers are considering protesting over the rules which could see illegal eggs from battery-caged hens being imported into the UK from Europe. Union president Peter Kendall said poultry farmers were furious over the new European Commission rules which have no way of checking whether member states comply.
“Producers are right to be furious,” Kendall said. “The Commisison has been in downright denial and now is starting to realise the problems at the 11th hour. Farmers are willing to campaign on this next January if imports are allowed in.”