The British Egg Industry Council, in partnership with Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), has welcomed the latest Government pledge to uphold high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards after leaving the EU, but warned that failure to meet those promises for imports could spell disaster for British egg farming, and lead to a new menu of low welfare, battery caged imported eggs produced to questionable safety standards for consumers.
The coalition wrote to the Secretary of State at the Dept for International Trade, the Rt. Hon. Liz Truss and at DEFRA, the Rt. Hon. George Eustice ahead of the announcement of the UK Global Tariff Policy, and received the following response:
“The Government has been clear that it remains firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards after leaving the EU. The EU Withdrawal Act has transferred all EU food safety provisions onto the UK statute book, including the high standards underpinning the British egg sector. The Government also remains committed to promoting robust food safety standards nationally and internationally, to protect consumer interests, and to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the food they buy.
“The Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure any future trade deals live up to the values of farmers, consumers, and businesses across the UK. As set out in our Manifesto, we will drive a hard bargain with all of our trading partners – and, as with all negotiations, we will be prepared to walk away if that is in the national interest. In developing our approach to future trade and upholding domestic standards, we are mindful of the importance processed eggs and similar products play in the market.”
While the UK egg industry operates to the highest standards of hen welfare, environmental protection and food safety in the world, there is a clear risk that, without sufficient tariffs, eggs and egg products are imported from third countries which do not even meet basic hen welfare requirements, which avoids costs associated with welfare standards and allows them to undercut domestic egg production.
Mark Williams, British Egg Industry Council Chief Executive, said: “While we welcome the commitment to not compromise on high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, this approach must also apply to imports, something which the Government fails to make clear in its response. We cannot allow the Government to operate double standards where UK farmers have to continue to produce to high standards, yet allow imports produced to lower or no standards at all – this would be a moral outrage for consumers and catastrophic for our farmers, supply chain and the UK’s reputation for high standards of welfare, environmental protection and producing safe food for consumers.”
David Bowles, RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, said: “Without trade and domestic policy acting in concert, there is every chance that battery caged eggs will be back on the menu and we risk a race to the bottom for our animal welfare and food safety standards.”
Dr Nick Palmer, Head of Compassion UK, said: “Without adequate tariffs to only allow imported products produced to UK standards, the doors will be wide open for powdered and liquid eggs from countries with lower or no animal welfare standards – this is not what UK consumers expect of our Government, which promotes high standards of hen welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”
The chief executive of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, Robert Gooch, was critical of the government’s stance and said egg producers were at risk if the Government failed to commit to tariffs.
“British egg producers will be alarmed to see yet another statement from Government which provides platitudes about ‘being mindful’ of domestic standards without any commitment on the use of import tariffs or any equivalent measures to limit the amount of imported egg products from low welfare systems.
“My members have led the world in pioneering high-welfare free range egg production for more than 30 years but face the very real threat of being undercut by a tidal wave of eggs from hens kept in conditions which are illegal in this country.
“We again call on the Government to reassure British free range egg producers that their livelihoods will be not be exported abroad during trade negotiations and ask for the current level of egg tariffs to remain post Brexit.”