By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
As well as here in the UK, Avian Influenza (AI) is continuing to inflict damage abroad, with a number of outbreaks in France, Italy, and Poland. In the UK, we have seen a growing number of infections in non-commercial birds. Cases have also been reported in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and in several countries across West Africa. There is some good news however, in that we have seen some early signs that infections are beginning to plateau, however, there are still risks of a possible second peak.
Over the coming weeks, we will start to see Protection Zones merge to become Surveillance Zones and being on top biosecurity protocols will remain essential during this transition, and into the future, which should go without saying. This is just as true when it comes to staff at packing centres and on farms, when their role involves travelling between locations. Despite staffing difficulties due to the UK Government’s position on migration and labour, as well as COVID-19 and the Omicron wave, we must not allow our biosecurity to be compromised.
I will continue to encourage readers to view the recordings of the joint poultry industry-government workshop that took place on 13 September 2021, which provides detailed information on how to understand the risk pathways. I would like to take this opportunity to urge those who have yet to do so to watch the presentations that are available to watch online.
A positive development is that the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has formally accepted the British Egg Industry Council’s (BEIC) position on Egg Marketing Standards, should the 16-week derogation period be exceeded. This agreement sets out the industry and BEIC’s position on printing for eggs and egg packs, if free range hens were required to remain housed longer than 16-weeks.
As I mentioned, we understand the pressures that the industry is under in terms of labour, and that there is no immediate solution to the problems caused by the end of freedom of movement, and COVID-19 in terms of staff shortages. We have not stopped putting the pressure on government, providing evidence and case studies, often in cooperation with other agriculture and farming groups. The BEIC has recently provided updated evidence to the House of Common, Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee on labour supply issues, in the context of COVID-19 and how the industry was impacted during the Christmas period.
In terms of international trade, the BEIC has also submitted evidence to UK Government consultations on several proposed free trade agreements with countries such as India, Australia, New Zealand, trade relations between the UK-EU, and the CPTPP trading bloc. We will also continue work with specific animal welfare groups that understand the hypocrisy behind allowing eggs and egg products to be imported under a reduced tariff, or tariff free arrangement, from countries with standards that would be illegal in the UK – especially from pre-EU style barren battery cage systems, when our own government is looking to consult on banning all caged farming systems in the UK.