By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
The Russian war against Ukraine rages on, with Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists seemingly fighting a war of attrition against Kiev, making some narrow gains. It does not look like this war will be over any time soon.
Neither will much of the chaos around energy supplies to Europe, as well as Ukraine’s huge export market of agricultural commodities. Germany has been urged to save energy, after Russian state-owned Gazprom announced reductions of around 40% in natural gas exports, which have risen to around 60%.
The Kremlin has blamed the reduction on issues with maintenance. Regardless, it highlights the disproportionate reliability much of Europe has on Russia. Russia has used its position as a large exporter of natural gas and oil to further its foreign policy aims. The UK Government has pledged to re-open closed nuclear power plants, lift the moratorium on fracking, and better utilise renewable energy.
Hopefully, the latest example in Germany will help push the UK Government in the appropriate direction. Moving on to domestic food production and security, the UK Government has published its Food Strategy. The strategy has been broadly welcomed by UK farming and agricultural associations.
The existence of the strategy itself is a sign of recognition of the importance of domestic food production. The BEIC welcomes this.
However, having an environmentally and economically sustainable domestic food production strategy on paper will be undermined if the country’s back door is completely open to low-animal welfare food products which would otherwise be illegal to produce, not only in the UK but across the EU. All while taking into consideration the fact that Defra is exploring ways to further increase animal welfare and environmental standards, both of which increase input costs for producers, and ultimately will be passed onto consumers.
When it comes to the UK negotiating trade deals around the world, with the prospect of reducing or eliminating tariffs and quotas, the House of Commons’ International Trade Committee recently accused the Secretary of State for International Trade of disrespecting Parliament, when the Government laid the UK-Australia FTA before Parliament, triggering a period of scrutiny of only 21 days for MPs.
The committee chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil, warned International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan of the need for sufficient time to take public evidence on the FTA, enabling the production of a report which could be the basis for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s plans.
The chair added: “Bringing forward the Australia trade agreement to Parliament now, the Secretary of State breaks an explicit commitment given to the Speaker of the House that we would have time to publish our report first. To so frivolously break this promise sets a dangerous precedent for future agreements.”
While the British egg industry, unlike other sectors, remains unthreatened by the prospect of an FTA with Australia, there are other negotiations underway in which our industry has specific concerns regarding the use of barren-battery cages being used, not only to meet other countries’ domestic demand for shell eggs, but in some cases the potential for export, and more realistically, their use in the production of egg powder that can find its way into thousands of UK-produced food goods.
This is not only an affront to our values on animal welfare, but it threatens to displace the small but growing egg powder sector in the UK. We have made our position clear to George Eustice, secretary of state at Defra, that the UK Government should not be seeking to ban enriched cages at this moment in time, due to the nature of the economy and the current cost of living crisis, or if they are to do so, they must ban all imports from cage systems at the same time.