Europe’s Bad Eggs


There is something rotten in the state of the EU… The NFU explains new legislation coming in next year in the form of the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive and calls for a level playing field for the UK, which is already up to speed in readiness for January 2012, while other EU member countries won’t be anywhere near meeting the deadline.


The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive (WLHD) sets out minimum standards for laying hens and prohibits the use of conventional (i.e. battery) cages from 1 January 2012. After this date egg production in the EU will only be allowed in enriched colony cages or non-cage systems (e.g. free range, barn or organic).


Enriched colony cages afford the birds 50 per cent more space than in a conventional (battery) cage and birds will be housed in groups of up to 80 birds. Each colony cage has a nesting and perching space and a scratch area where birds can exhibit their natural behaviour.


It is estimated that it will have cost the UK industry in the region of £400 million to convert from conventional cages to enriched versions in order to meet the requirements of the directive. The capital cost of setting up a new enriched colony unit is estimated at between £20 and £24 per bird place so for a producer who has a medium size cage unit of 100,000 birds the cost of erecting a new unit will be in excess of £2 million. Along with the capital cost of establishing a new enriched colony unit there is also an 8 per cent increase in the cost of producing eggs in enriched cages compared to conventional methods.


Within the UK the majority of birds will be in enriched cages by the deadline (January 2012). All Lion Scheme (the egg industry assurance scheme) producers (who supply the retail shell egg market) have agreed that they will be converted by 2012. The NFU has also spoken to several producers, outside the Lion Scheme, who supply eggs locally and who operate smaller size units who have also invested in conversion.


A study (completed in April 2010) commissioned by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee on the future of the EU poultry meat and egg sectors reported that: “Very large proportions” of the flock in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Poland and, to a lesser extent, Czech Republic, Hungary and France are not expected to be in compliance by the Directive’s deadline. The UK, on the other hand, features among those EU Member States that have already made significant progress towards banning so-called battery cages.


It is essential that those UK producers, who have invested heavily in conversion to enriched cages, in order to meet the requirements of the WLHD, are not put at a commercial disadvantage through imported non-compliant eggs. The NFU are lobbying for two key results one of which is to be able to differentiate between a compliant enriched colony cage egg and a non -compliant conventional cage egg.


Under the Egg Marketing Regulations all ‘Class A’ eggs have to be stamped with a code indicating production method. Currently the codes are as follows:


• 0 – Organic

• 1 – Free Range

• 2 – Barn

• 3 – Cage


The UK industry is requesting a fifth production indicator, or the non-stamping of conventional cage eggs. If unstamped this would mean that the eggs would have to remain in the country of origin and could only be sold as Class B (i.e. go for processing). The key is to be able identify non-compliant eggs to facilitate point 2.


The second goal is to obtain an intercommunity trade ban to prevent eggs from conventional cages being exported outside the Member State in which they were produced. This would help to ensure that UK producers are protected from, and not put at a disadvantage by, non-compliant imported eggs.


In the meantime, while a swathe of EU member countries drag their feet over deadlines for compliance, the UK egg industry is completely unsupported and market driven and showcases some of the highest welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental standards in the world. It is ludicrous that UK egg producers could be put at a commercial disadvantage by complying with European legislation. It is essential that eggs produced in conventional cages can be identified and therefore forced to remain within the Member State of production to protect our producers being subjected to competition from cheaper illegal imports, says the NFU.


The UK Egg Industry – Statistics:


Eggs laid in the UK

8,612 million

Eggs imported

2,373 million

Eggs exported

235 million

Domestic farm-gate value

£544 million

Domestic retail value

£844 million

Nett self sufficiency


(2009 NFU & Defra figures) Total number employed – Farm


(2009 Defra figures) Total number employed Packer/Processing


(derived from company accounts)