THE UK egg sector has warned of the risk of value being stripped from its supply chain if lower-cost, lower-welfare egg products are imported into the UK tariff-free.

Eggs are currently not listed as a sensitive sector in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which could see egg products from battery-cage kept hens imported into the UK.

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The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA have joined forces to urge the UK government to reconsider its decision to exclude eggs as a sensitive sector. The deal is set to be formally signed around 17 July.

Under the agreement, import tariffs on eggs and egg products will be phased out over a 10-year period.

The danger to British consumers is that egg products could be imported from countries like Mexico, which almost exclusively relies on battery cages for egg production.

‘Letting consumers down’

Such systems were made illegal in the UK in 2012. Since then, their replacements, enriched colony cages, have gradually taken a smaller share of UK production as consumers opt for free-range.

Mark Williams, BEIC Chief Executive, said: “It is almost unbelievable that the government would let consumers down like this.

“Shoppers will be horrified to learn that eggs in their food products could soon be coming from battery cages more than a decade after they were banned here.

“To rubber-stamp a deal which effectively sanctions the importation of eggs from conventional (battery) caged systems which are outlawed here is not only counter-intuitive, but it also completely undermines the countrywide standards that are adhered to by the UK egg industry.

Sector challenge

“This particularly affects the egg products sector, which could see the importation of low welfare eggs, whilst UK egg farmers rightly continue to invest in ensuring higher welfare standards for their birds.”

The BEIC added that it would not only be egg processors at risk – value in the broader sector could be undermined.

While only a fifth of eggs are used for egg products in the UK, domestic processors can utilise the 8-10% of a hen’s production that is class B.

Without an outlet for class B eggs, the market value of all eggs could be eroded, potentially lifting the price of fresh eggs on supermarket shelves – something that undermines the government’s ambition to lower food prices, the BEIC warned.