British egg suppliers have raised fears that a closer trade agreement with Ukraine – a major egg producing nation – may displace eggs produced in the European Union, which have to adhere to more stringent animal welfare rules.
The European Union has said it is seeking an increasingly close relationship with Ukraine, “going beyond mere bilateral co-operation, to gradual economic integration and a deepening of political cooperation”, but a new trade deal does not include provisions on animal welfare.
Ukraine produced 10.1bn eggs in the first half of 2013, an increase of 5.2% for Ukrainian egg companies on the prior year period, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, and the country continues to expand into new export markets, with agreements to supply eggs already established with 20 countries.
Meanwhile in the UK, total egg imports increased from January to May 2013, to reach 1.3m cases (about 468m eggs), up from 1.2m cases during the same period last year.
Chairman of British Lion egg processors Ian Jones said: “Market disruption, caused by the conventional cage ban, drove some operators to look abroad for egg products in 2012 but availability of top quality British Lion egg products has now been restored so this is an alarming trend.”
The EC directive, which came in to force in January 2012, did not actually ban cages for laying hens in the EU, but brought in rules that hens should have cages with a separate nesting area, enough space for all hens to access feed at the same time, perches for resting, and scrapers to shorten claws.
Egg processors associated with the British Lion food safety standard issued a warning to food manufacturers last month about the risks involved with using imported eggs and egg products.
Jones said: “The risks involved with using imported eggs and egg products are numerous and very real and should not be taken lightly.
“In addition to the safety issues that have been well documented, confusion around the translation of certain terminology when importing eggs and egg products, particularly between free range and barn egg, can make the sourcing process problematic.”