UK food manufacturers have been warned that new EU legislation changes could have a major impact on egg availability in 2012.

The EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive takes effect on 1 January next year and will require egg producers using caged hens to use larger cages, rather than traditional battery farm conditions.

British Lion Egg Processors (BLEP) yesterday (14 January) outlined concerns that many EU countries, including Greece, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Spain, will not be compliant by the European Commission’s deadline.

With some 30% of UK egg products and 13% of shell eggs being imported, the group is concerned that many of these imports, particularly in the egg products market, will not meet the new standards.

By the BLEP’s estimate, some 83m illegal eggs a day will be produced and it said that it remains unclear what will happen to them, with concerns they will make their way onto the commercial market.

The BLEP is calling for manufacturers to begin organising their supply chains now, as they will be unable to make up the shortfall from alternative suppliers. “If they leave it to the end of the year, it will be too late,” said Ian Jones, vice chairman of British Lion Egg Processors.

Jones added that UK companies using eggs from banned battery cages are likely to become targets for animal welfare groups.

While the British Lion Egg Processors said its members are set to be compliant by the deadline, it is concerned about the future of the UK egg industry if the EU does not enforce the directive.

“If more time is given for non-compliant producers to become compliant, it will create total market disruption and affect the viability of compliant businesses. It is unfair on producers that have invested in becoming compliant,” said British Egg Industry Council chief executive Mark Williams.

However, he added that the coalition supports an intra-EU trade ban if member states do not enforce the new standards.

With the UK sector investing GBP400m (US$633.4m) in becoming compliant, NFU president Peter Kendall called for food manufacturers not to “sell us down the river” by buying non-complaint eggs from around the EU.

He said that failure to do so may see the egg sector go the same way as the pig industry, after the ban on stalls and tethers saw the UK pig industry halved in the 1990s.

The British Egg Information Service has launched a campaign called ‘The Clock is Ticking’ targeting retailers, private-label firms, branded manufacturers and the foodservice industry to ensure the industry meets the new standards.

The campaign will include one-to-one briefings with manufacturers, a website, and trade press advertising.