By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
The Trade and Agriculture Commission recently launched a call for evidence into the impact of the UK Government’s post-Brexit trade policy on the agri-food sector. The BEIC has submitted evidence on the UK’s approach to free trade agreements, particularly the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). We have continued to make the case for including eggs and egg products as ‘sensitive’. The UK Government says that it is proud of the high animal welfare standards, which are integral to the UK’s reputation for high-quality produce. We are also proud of our high standards of animal welfare.
The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive, fully implemented in 2012 and now retained in UK law post-Brexit, was the first piece of EU legislation that prohibited the use of conventional cage systems. This meant that barren battery cages had to be replaced with enriched cages, with more space and height, a nesting area, scratching area and perches for the hens. Since the UK left the EU, the BEIC has consistently warned policy and decision makers that by concluding free trade agreements with countries such as Mexico, that they will undermine all the hard work our producers have made to comply with this legislation. Mexico, one of the largest CPTPP members, has an egg industry much larger than the UK, but it uses almost exclusively conventional battery cage systems that are illegal in the UK.
The Government has talked a big game about its commitment to animal welfare domestically but sees no problem with opening the door to egg and egg products, produced by systems of production that are illegal in the UK. This is a betrayal not only of our industry, but also consumers. For example, when eating out consumers won’t be able to make an informed choice based on animal welfare concerns, as egg products go into literally thousands of different finished food products – with no way for consumers to determine which have egg products produced from hens kept in conventional cage systems.
The Government has tried to absolve itself of this with the argument that table eggs are not transported in major quantities over such long distances, and that exports of egg products are not significant within the CPTPP membership. The Government is correct as of today, however, it has completely missed the point. We are all aware that shell eggs are not exported over such long distances as it would simply not be economically viable for those countries so far away from the UK to do so. However, egg products such as powdered egg would be economically attractive for countries such as Mexico to export once import tariffs, which currently protect our industry, are removed. Our concern is that as (particularly) dried egg products can be transported over long distances and stored for long periods of time, once import tariffs are removed, it will become attractive to export to the UK. This would have a hugely negative impact on the UK egg products sector, and ultimately the British egg industry.
We will continue to work with our allies on this issue – the RSCPA and Compassion in World Farming, to raise our concern at every level, and to make the public aware of how the Government’s actions on international trade are not aligned in any way with their position on animal welfare.
Many of you will be aware that after 23 years as Chief Executive of the BEIC, I will be retiring from the role on 6 December 2023, instead taking on the role of Chairman from Andrew Joret who has held the position since 2012. We were delighted to welcome Gary Ford to the BEIC team on 14 August. Gary will act as Deputy Chief Executive and have a 3.5-month handover period, taking over from me from 7 December.