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January 3, 2012

UK: Egg producers launch legal challenge over battery-farmed eggs

An organisation that represents UK egg producers has begun legal proceedings against the country's government over its refusal to ban battery cage eggs and egg products.

An organisation that represents UK egg producers has begun legal proceedings against the country’s government over its refusal to ban battery cage eggs and egg products.

The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), asking it to give a fuller explanation for its decision and to review its current position, the first step in judicial review proceedings.

EU legislation that came into force on Sunday (1 January) bans cage egg production but producers in 13 other EU countries, including Spain, Italy and Poland, have not fully complied with the ban. UK farmers claim they could lose out to competitors in the EU that have not complied with the ban and before Christmas they called on the government to unilaterally ban caged eggs from being sold in the country.

The UK government, however, said it could not enforce the ban but said a voluntary agreement among the country’s manufacturers and retailers would help prevent cage eggs from going on sale.

Andrew Parker, BEIC chairman, said: “British egg producers have invested heavily to meet their legal obligations and improve animal welfare. We now need our government to support them by preventing unfair competition from producers in other countries who have not complied with the ban.

“We’re asking the government to conduct proper checks of imported eggs, egg products and products containing eggs entering UK ports, egg packing stations, processing plants, importers and wholesalers.

“Otherwise, UK consumers could be eating eggs from illegal battery hens, and British egg producers will be seriously undermined, with the possible loss of thousands of jobs.”

However, UK agriculture minister Jim Paice said no European agreement was reached on enforcing the ban, so the British government has worked with the domestic egg industry, processors, food manufacturers, the food service sector and retailers to reach a voluntary agreement that they won’t sell or use battery-farmed eggs. He added it will be difficult for producers who have not complied with the EU directive to find an outlet in the UK.

Paice said: “Given the very significant legal and financial implications of introducing such a ban, coupled with practical difficulties in enforcing it, it is not a realistic option 

“It is unacceptable that after the ban on battery cages comes into effect, around 50m hens across Europe will still remain in poor conditions. We have all had plenty of time to make these changes, but 13 EU nations have not done so. The UK egg industry alone has spent GBP400m (US$24m) ensuring hens live in better conditions. It would be unthinkable if countries continuing to house hens in poor conditions were to profit from flouting the law.”

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