By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
The number of avian influenza cases is slowly on the rise, but fortunately nowhere near the rate we experienced in the autumn of 2022. We are saddened to learn about the sites affected and the BEIC will provide all the support we can in such difficult times.
Just because the number of cases is lower, we are leaving nothing to chance, as the risk of a ‘second wave’ is still a reality. No one should allow any compromise in their biosecurity levels, especially as this H5N1 HPAI strain is more virulent than others, requiring a much smaller level of exposure to cause infection in flocks. This also means that previous levels of biosecurity may not be enough to keep the virus at bay.
Around Christmastime last year, the BEIC explained how we would once again implement the labelling solution for eggs when the 16-week derogation period from free-range birds required to be housed under government veterinary order had been exceeded. Once again, we agreed this with the British Retail Consortium.
A temporary derogation to the Lion Code of Practice came into effect from 25 January removing the requirement to print eggs on free-range laying farms with the Producer Establishment Number. Instead, these eggs, delivered to a Lion registered packing centre, were printed with the free-range PEN (e.g., 1UK54321). From 1 February, ink-jet printers in Lion packing centres were reprogrammed to print the Barn PEN (e.g., 2UK54321) and from the same date all free-range egg packs will carry the words ‘barn eggs’ either via direct print or via a rationale-type label.
BEIC has decided to use the end date of the East Anglia 16-week period (1 February) as the starting point for the implementation of the UK-wide labelling solution. Even though there are different start dates across East Anglia, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, to avoid potential customer confusion and supply chain issues, having one date is the most practical solution. Further information on the 16-week period, or the labelling solution can be obtained by contacting the BEIC.
The BEIC continues to attend the AI Round Table, hosted by a Defra minister, where we keep the government updated on supply chain issues, and relevant commercial issues. We have maintained the importance of insurance underwriters being able to provide cover for the industry, which can only be achieved by restoring confidence in how quickly culling of infected flocks can take place.
We have also made it clear that maintaining high levels of biosecurity is the most important defence against AI, however, vaccination is a necessity and work is ongoing with the new joint industry and government task force, which will examine all aspects of AI vaccination.
The BEIC recently met with the 1922 Committee, a parliamentary group of Conservative MPs and Peers, that meets weekly and provides a forum for backbenchers to co-ordinate their views, independently of their party leadership. This was worthwhile in that we were able to raise many of the issues that we discussed in the AI Round table meetings, further raising awareness of the challenges faced by the industry. These included supply chain issues, AI compensation reform, AI vaccination, and the change needed to the egg marketing regulation.
We continue to keep a close eye on international trade, constantly engaging with Parliament’s International Trade Committee, and Environmental, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee. The BEIC will continue to supply these committees and others with evidence that supports the British egg industry, reinforcing our position against the threat of low-animal welfare imports.