Government faces legal challenge over battery egg imports
THE British egg industry is set to challenge Defra in the courts over its refusal to ban imports of illegally-produced battery cage eggs and egg products.
The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has embarked on the first stage towards launching Judicial Review proceedings by formally writing to Defra to challenge the UK Government on its response to the EU battery cage ban, which came into force on January 1.
British egg producers have invested £400 million phasing out battery cages to meet the requirements of the new EU legislation and all British Lion cage eggs now come from ‘enriched colony’ cages.
However producers in 13 other EU countries, including Spain, Italy and Poland, have not fully complied with the ban. It is estimated that around one-quarter of EU cage egg production is still illegal, with more than 50 million hens still being kept in battery cages, producing more than 40 million eggs a day.
In December, Farming Minister Jim Paice announced that the UK would not impose a unilateral ban on eggs produced in battery cages, citing ‘very significant legal and financial implications’ and practical difficulties in enforcing such a ban.
Instead the UK is relying on ultra-violet testing of imported shell eggs and a voluntary food industry ban, backed by a number of retailers, food service companies, manufacturers and processors.
The BEIC said its legal advice was that the Government has ‘incorrectly interpreted the law’ and suggested it was ‘condoning the importation of illegal battery cage eggs and egg products into the UK’.
The council’s ‘pre-action protocol letter’ asks Defra to give a fuller explanation for its decision and to review its current position that the Government cannot do anything to prevent the importation of illegally produced eggs and egg products.
BEIC chairman Andrew Parker 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.”
He said it was ‘ridiculous’ that while the Government has said it will check shell egg imports, it does not plan to check imported egg products or products containing eggs.
He insisted this was a ‘standard traceability procedure operated throughout the food industry both here in the UK and in the EU’ and a ‘straightforward process for the Government’.
“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,” he said.
A Defra spokesperson 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.
“To protect consumers from buying eggs from battery cages we have worked closely with the major food processors and retailers who have agreed not to supply these eggs or use them in their own foods.”
- The BEIC has launched a new website - www.legaleggs.com - and is calling for food companies and the public to sign its pledge to support British egg producers and help keep illegal eggs out of the UK.