By Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC)
Speaking at the NFU Conference in February, Secretary of State Michael Gove MP said that the farming industry had “argued that we need tariffs on sheep meat, beef, poultry, dairy, both milk and cheese; and pig meat in order to safeguard our valuable domestic production. Your concerns have been absolutely heard and an announcement on new UK tariffs in a no deal scenario – with specific and robust protections for farming – will be made shortly.” Yet, with less than a month before we are due to leave the EU, no announcement has been made.
UK eggs and egg products have a compelling case to be protected. Our standards are considerably higher than the largest egg exporters across the globe, who could potentially have tariff free market access to the UK from 30 March.
EU and UK legislation accounts for 16% of the cost of production. By allowing imports of egg and egg products to the UK free from tariffs, which do not meet our production standards, would be a slap in the face for UK egg producers and consumers.
The EU’s Welfare of Laying Hens Directive outlawed the use of conventional cages in 2012. However, none of the key exporting countries to the EU/UK have national legislation to protect laying hen welfare. Countries like the Ukraine can produce eggs and egg products, using the conventional cage system, at a much lower cost than our producers can using colony cages, and certainly free-range eggs.
Under WTO rules, animal welfare and environmental standards cannot be used as a barrier for eggs or egg products entering our country. This is despite a majority of the aforementioned 16% production cost coming from legislation in these two areas. We are therefore requesting that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, the government says that WTO tariffs will be imposed on eggs and egg products.
Affording the egg industry the same protection as other agricultural sectors is essential. We are totally market driven and produce eggs and egg products to what are among the highest standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection in the world, very much in sync with the publics and government’s vision for UK agriculture.