By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
The British egg industry is experiencing an incredibly difficult time. First, we had Brexit followed by Covid-19 and successive lockdowns, and now the critical factor of significantly increased cost pressure. The soaring costs are well documented, but include feed, energy, fuel and labour in particular. This has led to producers having no choice but to stop production rather than facing a financial loss on every egg produced. The losses due to Avian Influenza have only served to compound the situation.
Unfortunately, the media chose to totally blame AI for empty shelves, however, we corrected this in our briefings to media; that the huge cost increases must be recognised and addressed by improved returns.
While we expect supply to return to normal once the cost pressures ease, we don’t know when this will be, and egg packers and producers continue to lose money.
We know that eggs are one of the most nutritious sustainable foods on the shopping list which play a crucial role in everyday meals for all the family. This means that we must do all we can to ensure that there enough British eggs for all to enjoy without having to compromise.
This brings me to imports; it is incredibly disappointing to see foreign eggs on some shelves. All our research shows that British consumers want and expect eggs to be home produced, offering them the highest possible standards. If retailers do choose to sell foreign eggs they must be clearly marked as such so that consumers can see the country of origin and are aware, that unlike British Lion eggs, they are not Food Standards Agency approved to be eaten runny by all vulnerable groups.
On the issue of trade, the BEIC continues to engage with the UK Government on behalf of the egg sector to ensure our industry is not undermined by imports of eggs and egg products produced to lower standards. As well making representations to Defra and the Department for International Trade, the BEIC has responded to many inquiries run by the parliamentary International Trade Select Committee. We recently reiterated our position on trade with India, and the CPTPP (Pacific Rim countries) trading bloc, particularly the fact that these countries still use conventional cage production systems.
On Avian Influenza the H5N1 highly pathogenic strain has been detected in birds all over the world, now even in South America. Vaccination must be our way of controlling AI, however, as I pointed out in my previous column, there are significant barriers to overcome. To reiterate, we need effective vaccines (more than one!), which can be easily administered, with a proper cost-effective surveillance programme in place, which will serve to avoid trade barriers.
The amended Lion Code biosecurity standards are now bedded in and are aimed at strengthening a site’s defences against AI. However, we remain reliant on everyone in the industry, at every level, playing their part in ensuring that there are no holes in the defences. Biosecurity failings remain the greatest threat to an individual site.