UK retailers including Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons have also signed up to the voluntary agreement

UK retailers including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons have also signed up to the voluntary agreement

UK food manufacturers have pledged not to use caged eggs from Europe, amid concerns that egg producers on the continent will fail to comply with a ban that starts next month.

Premier Foods plc and Ferrero are among some of the companies to support UK egg producers in a voluntary agreement to not use eggs produced in battery cages.

The pledge has come into force to prevent caged eggs from Europe being used in the UK after 1 January when an EU ban on the eggs comes into force. The UK egg industry will no longer supply caged eggs but has expressed concern that other EU member states will not comply with the ban. 

From 1 January, egg producers in the EU are required to provide hens with larger and more comfortable cages, which include nesting and scratching areas that allow more natural behaviour.

UK retailers including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons have also signed up to the pledge. Announcing the agreement, UK agriculture minister Jim Paice said: "It is unacceptable that after the ban on battery cages comes into effect, around 50m hens across Europe will still remain in poor conditions."

Paice said the UK egg industry has spent GBP400m (US$627.5m) 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."

The UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it will carrying out surveillance on egg products that enter the UK.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) said it will use ultra violet light to identify batches of eggs that were not laid in the new, more welfare friendly cages. 

Any eggs which only show a pattern of wire marks will have been laid in the old battery cages, and will not be allowed to be sold as class A eggs but will be sold as grade B eggs instead.

Some members of the UK egg industry were looking for the country's government to try to unilaterally ban eggs from the continent. A spokesperson for the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) said it supported the voluntary agreement but believed something more concrete should be in place. 

Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), 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. That way, British consumers will know exactly what they are getting."

A spokesperson for DEFRA said it could not introduce this because it would "represent a hinderance on free trade rules in Europe" and would be legally very difficult to implement.