New rules stipulating laying hens can only be kept in ‘enriched cages’ providing more space, perches, a nest and litter for scratching, are due to come in across the EU on January 1, 2012.
In a report examining the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee claims the European Commission is ‘sleepwalking into a potential commercial disaster’ over the regulations.
The MPs claim UK egg producers, which are complying with the rules, will face unfair competition from the one-third of Europe’s eggs set to be produced in conditions which will be illegal from the start of next year.
Committee chair Anne McIntosh said: “The European Commission has just not woken up to the impact that non-compliance with this legislation will have on egg producers in the UK and across Europe.
“UK egg producers have spent around £400 million to improve conditions for laying hens. That money will be wasted and UK producers will be left at a competitive disadvantage if cheaper, illegal and non-compliant shell eggs and egg products can be imported to the UK from other European countries.”
The report calls on the UK Government to press for an intra-community trade ban on the export of non-compliant eggs and egg products.
It also urges the European Commission to initiate infraction proceedings against member states where caged egg producers remain non-compliant once the directive comes into force.
Ms McIntosh said several member states had not provided data to the Commission about the preparedness of their caged egg producers.
The MPs recommended the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office’s powers and resources be strengthened to help enforce compliance with the directive.
A Defra spokesman said the department was pressing the Commission to take action to ensure the 2012 deadline is met and will ‘keep up the pressure to ensure good animal welfare’.
“The UK poultry industry has worked hard and made a significant investment to improve laying hen welfare, which would be undermined if producers in other countries don’t also make the changes,” he said.
NFU president Peter Kendall said the potential was there for a repeat of the UK ban on pig stalls and tethers, which has resulted in the UK market being flooded with cheaper, lower welfare EU pigmeat imports for more than a decade.
“Our market must not be impinged by eggs or egg products produced to lower welfare standards. The Commission needs to stop those countries which have dragged their feet damaging the UK market,” he said.