The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive - Implications for the egg industry - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT)

The British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) is a national charity that encourages support for the British egg industry. Its ultimate aim is to see consumers and food manufacturers buying only UK produced free-range eggs, resulting in a strong British egg industry where there is a willingness to continue to improve welfare standards for laying hens.

The British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) supports British egg farmers farming to high welfare standards, and wishes to see farming remain strong in the UK where there is a willingness to continue to improve welfare standards for laying hens.

We support the EU welfare of laying hen's directive but are concerned that following its implementation:

—  (a)  the EU will see increasing imports of egg powder from eggs laid in conventional cages in non-EU countries; and

—  (b)  eggs produced in non-compliant systems within the EU will continue to be used in the production of multi-ingredient foods and available to UK consumers.

To protect UK farmers from both cheaper imports, and non-compliant farmers from outside of the UK, we recommend the implementation of a production method labelling scheme for multi-ingredient foods containing eggs. Such a scheme will empower consumers with information to make informed purchasing decisions based on animal welfare, and support UK egg producers farming to higher welfare standards than non-EU farmers, and non-compliant farmers in the EU.

1.  In 2004 an EU Commission report estimated 24% of EU eggs are used in food processing and a further 20% go to the food service sector. Multi-ingredient foods containing eggs are not required to be labelled with egg production method. This makes it difficult for consumers to distinguish between multi-ingredient foods containing eggs raised through different production methods.

2.  Following the implementation of the EU welfare of laying hen's directive we are concerned the EU will see increased imports of eggs and egg derivatives produced from conventionally caged hens outside the EU. This trend is supported by predictions made by the International Egg Commission. Professor Hans-Wilhelm Windhorst, statistical analyst at the IEC has said "Egg production in the EU declined by 2.5% from 2002 to 2007," and warns the EU flock will continue shrinking, resulting in the EU becoming a net importer for the first time by 2012.

3.  Industry figures presented by the British Egg Industry Council to the European Commission provide evidence that it is cheaper to produce egg powder in countries outside of the EU and export to Europe than to produce within the EU.

To produce a kg of whole egg powder (post 2012) in the EU is estimated to cost 533 eurocent (including production and transport). The costs in other countries (production, transport and EU Import levies) are lower (Eurocent/kg).

—  Argentina = 499

—  US = 529

—  Brazil = 511

—  India = 486

This situation has potential to be further exacerbated if talks within the WTO lead to a reduction in the import levies which would effectively make overseas production even cheaper.

4.  We are concerned that the reduction in egg supply across the EU following the ban and the availability of cheaper imports of egg powder will lead food processing companies and the foodservice sector to import egg powder and multi-ingredient products containing eggs produced by hens housed in conventional cages in non-EU countries.

5.  The EU egg industry estimates 29.3% of EU egg farmers will be non-compliant from 1 January 2012. This accounts for 83 million eggs per day which will no longer be marketable within the EU. It is anticipated these eggs will be graded as class B and used in processed foods.

6.  The availability of non-compliant eggs and the threat of cheaper imports of egg powder produced by hens in conventional cages outside of the EU threaten the UK egg industry which has invested in excess of £400 million so far in new production systems to meet the conditions of the welfare of laying hen's directive.

7.  To counteract these developments we recommend the implementation of a production method labelling scheme for multi-ingredient foods containing egg product in the UK to empower consumers with the information they require to make decisions based on the welfare of animals.

8.  Empowering the consumer will have immediate benefits to the UK egg industry, providing an incentive to processing companies to source eggs from higher welfare production systems in the UK to meet consumer choice and provide themselves with a marketable advantage.

9.  In 2006, the Farm Animal Welfare Council stated: "If retailers were required to label clearly the welfare status of all livestock products…it is possible that a significant switch by consumers to products produced to higher animal welfare standards would result". In addition, euro barometer surveys on animal welfare show clear aspirational preference from the British consumer for products produced to higher welfare standards. For instance 87% of 45,000 consumers surveyed felt that food retailers do not provide enough information on welfare conditions and 89% felt that clearer labelling on livestock production methods should be provided to indicate animal welfare condition.[5] However these preferences and aspirations can only be translated into purchase decisions if provision of transparent and clear labelling is present.

10.  During a recent stakeholders meeting in Brussels, representatives of the Netherlands government proposed the implementation of "a method" for consumers to distinguish between multi-ingredient foods containing eggs from conventionally caged hens and those containing eggs from higher welfare productions systems which meet the EU directive. Therefore providing support for a production method labelling for multi-ingredient foods containing eggs at a European level.

11.  A number of British retailers have already committed to using eggs from non-caged hens in their own brand products. Morrison's, Waitrose and M&S have also expressed support to the BHWT and the BEIC for the development of a voluntary production method labelling scheme for products containing eggs in the UK.

12.  Production method labelling for multi-ingredient foods containing eggs will benefit:

UK consumers

—  Providing consumers with the means to easily identify higher welfare multi-ingredient products containing eggs.

—  Ensuring consumers can choose to support farmers farming to higher welfare standards than non-EU farmers and non-compliant farmers in the EU.

UK farmers

—  Improving consumer choice will see an increasing number of consumers demonstrating a preference for higher welfare multi-ingredient food products. This will subsequently lead to processing companies purchasing eggs from higher welfare systems and help support egg farmers farming to higher welfare standards.

—  Labelling will help UK farmers to compete effectively with non-EU egg product imports.

UK retailers

—  Providing an additional platform to show consumers their support for UK egg producers farming to higher welfare standards, and their commitment to improving the welfare of egg laying hens.

—  Providing a marketable advantage over foods produced using eggs from conventionally caged hens.

Animal welfare

—  Empowering consumers with information on the welfare standards of their foods will lead to an increase in foods containing higher welfare eggs being purchased. This in turn will provide producers with a powerful incentive to produce welfare friendly products and retailers to source them, providing farmers with the incentives to continue to improve standards of animal welfare on farms and so improve the individual welfare of egg laying hens.

—  Farmers and producers agree that market success of animal welfare schemes will improve conditions for animals on the farm. Consumers play a big role in determining the extent to which conditions improve; the more animal welfare-friendly products consumers buy, the better the conditions will be for farmed animals.[6]

February 2011




5   Eurobarometer 229/63.2 June 2005. Attitudes of consumers towards the welfare of farmed animal. Back

6   Animal Welfare: How to make an informed choice, December 2009: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/press/aw_factsheet_dec2009_en.pdf  Back


 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 2 September 2011