By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
At the time of writing, there have not been multiple cases of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza as we experienced this time last year. This is positive, but it in no way means that we can deviate from all necessary biosecurity measures, it is vital that they are followed completely, as any outbreak during this time of the year could have severe consequences. The wild bird population spreading the virus is still a significant risk, with several confirmed cases of the captive population in Scotland due to direct infection from wild birds. This is another example of what maintaining high standards of biosecurity, is non-negotiable, to continue to protect the poultry sector against AI.
Alongside biosecurity, we are looking at vaccination as a potential tool for the future. The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) co-chaired the joint industry-UK Government AI vaccination task force, this task force has been looking into the benefits and challenges posed by vaccination. The task force has also undertaken a cost-benefit analysis to help inform the debate and engage with industry over the potential implications of a vaccination strategy. The task force will shortly be presenting a report to Defra’s Avian Influenza Policy Group for consideration and ministerial comment.
There are challenges to be overcome when it comes for finding a working vaccination regime for the sector, the vaccine must have cost-effective surveillance and cause no disruption to international trade. We cannot allow a situation like that which currently exists between France and the USA where moves in France to vaccinate ducks has resulted in the US imposing trade restrictions on French poultry imports. Cost effective surveillance is also critical due to the impact that this would have on the cost of production at a time of high levels of food inflation.
Moving on to the issue of Defra’s proposal on temperature during transport for poultry. The BEIC commissioned ADAS to investigate the impact different temperatures have, ambient and within the transport trailer, may have on the welfare of end-of-law hens. The BEIC submitted the report to Defra, and it found no concerns regarding the transportation of hens. The next step is to await a response from Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Team. They will review the report with the assistance of their veterinary experts, after which that BEIC will look to set up a meeting to discuss the report and their conclusions in greater detail.
On international trade, the BEIC recently took part in a roundtable discussion with the Farming Minister, Mark Spencer MP, in which trade was discussed at length. We have consistently expressed our serious concerns on the CPTPP agreement, with particular emphasis on Mexico – the fourth latest producer of eggs in the world, and almost exclusively from conventional cage systems. There is no indication that they will be moving towards other systems of production now or in the future. The CPTPP agreement allows now allows the import of eggs/egg products from countries such as Mexico and, due to the terms of the UK accession to CPTPP, egg imports will be fully liberalised over a period of 10 years.
These concerns are mirrored in regarding the current progress on the proposed trade deal between the UK and India, where commercial laying hens are also almost exclusively kept in conventional ‘battery’ cages. Such imports would undercut British egg producers who operate to significantly higher standards of animal welfare and world-leading food safety standards under the British Lion Code of Practice. While major retailers’ commitment to continue to source Lion shell eggs for retail sale reduces the risk of displacement by imported shell eggs, as does the practicalities of long-distance transport, it is the fifth of eggs used for egg products that is most concerning because of the impact not only on animal welfare standards but also on British egg processors.
As noted in the Prime Minister’s open letter to British Farmers in May, in which he offered reassurance by stating “where appropriate, permanent quotas to protect sensitive sectors” (will remain in place), we seek the assurance of the UK government that eggs and egg products will be afforded ‘sensitive product’ status in the UK-India FTA negotiations and that import tariffs will not be removed.