Egg industry leaders have joined forces with animal welfare charities to urge the UK government to reconsider its decision to exclude eggs in the recently agreed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The British Egg Industry Council, Compassion in World Farming, and the RSPCA say the exclusion means imports are set to undercut British egg producers who operate to significantly higher animal welfare standards.
They say the government has ignored industry warnings that the deal allows the import of eggs from countries using conventional battery cage systems that were deemed illegal in the UK 11 years ago, in 2012, as the agreement allows for import tariffs on eggs and egg products to be phased out over a 10-year period.
The danger to British consumers is that egg products could be imported from countries such as Mexico, which almost entirely relies on battery cages for egg production. Such imports would undercut British egg producers who operate to significantly higher animal welfare and food safety standards under the British Lion Code of Practice.
Mark Williams, British Egg Industry Council chief executive, said he found it almost unbelievable that the government would let down British consumers: “Shoppers will be horrified to learn that eggs in their food products could soon be coming from battery cages more than a decade after they were banned here.”
He added: “To rubber-stamp a deal which effectively sanctions the importation of eggs from conventional caged systems which are outlawed here is not only counter-intuitive, but it also completely undermines the countrywide standards that are adhered to by the UK egg industry. This particularly affects the egg products sector, which could see the importation of low welfare eggs, while UK egg farmers rightly continue to invest in ensuring higher welfare standards for their birds.”
David Bowles, RSPCA head of public affairs, said if the deal was agreed, it would not only set British egg producers at a disadvantage, but it would directly impact RSPCA standards on laying hens, which currently account for 1 in 2 eggs produced in the UK.
“The government is starting the gun on a race to the bottom for our animal welfare standards,” he said.
Dr Nick Palmer, head of Compassion in World Farming UK, added: “Without adequate tariffs to only allow imported eggs produced to UK standards, the doors will be wide open for powdered and liquid eggs from countries with lower or no animal welfare standards. That is not what UK consumers expect of our government, which promotes high standards of hen welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”