The Guardian has uncovered that the UK is receiving a high influx of eggs from other countries with low standards of animal welfare. Experts caution that Brexit may exacerbate this trend and lead to even more imports.
According to records from the Animal and Plant Health Agency, there was a significant increase in the number of eggs imported from Poland and Italy in the years 2021 to August 2023. The data shows that imports from Poland rose by over 2,000%, going from 46 shipments to 1,095. Meanwhile, imports from Italy also saw a jump of nearly 300%, rising from 72 shipments to 279 between 2022 and 2023.
The overall amount of shipments that were brought in increased from 422 in 2021 to 2,120 in 2022, and has already surpassed 2,536 in the first eight months of 2023.
Experts have cautioned that the quality of goods from these nations may not meet standards. A recent study revealed that a significant salmonella outbreak earlier in the year was linked to eggs from Poland. There are concerns that post-Brexit trade agreements could result in a decrease in quality as eggs from caged hens with lower welfare standards are imported into the UK.
Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said she was “staggered” by the import figures for the first eight months of 2023. “When the medical advice is to eat British Lion eggs [stamped to show they have been produced in accordance with a code of practice], why on earth would they be importing eggs produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK?” she asked. “It raises serious questions as to whether the government is checking food imports given the ongoing delays in the border target operating model.”
Gary Ford, the deputy chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, echoed her concerns, saying it was “very disappointing” to see imports growing, “particularly at a time when British producers have been struggling due to poor returns”.
According to his statement, there is cause for concern among consumers due to a recent report that found a significant salmonella outbreak earlier this year was connected to eggs from Poland.
The rise in imported goods is a result of limited supplies, which started in the latter part of 2022 when egg producers reduced output due to rising expenses from the increase in food and energy prices. Official records show that UK egg production has decreased by 8% in 2022 and by 10% this year.
The UK government has been approached by farmers regarding this matter, but their response has been unsupportive. At the National Farmers’ Union conference, the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, was met with boos when she stated that she did not believe there was a market failure in the poultry industry, despite the lack of products on store shelves.
According to data, retailers have obtained produce from other European countries such as Latvia and Hungary.
According to Klub Gaja, a Polish organization focused on environmental and animal well-being, there are currently 40 million layer hens being raised in Poland, with 87% of them living in cages. On average, each hen is given only slightly more space than an A4 sheet of paper.
There are concerns about the potential decline in egg quality due to post-Brexit trade deals that may allow for the reintroduction of battery eggs. This could happen under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), as ministers are likely to approve the import of produce from countries such as Mexico.
In 1999, the United Kingdom government implemented a ban on caged eggs, as confirmed by David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs. Bowles stated that the ban has been well-received by the public, evident through their preference for free range eggs. He also expressed concern over the importation of low-welfare egg products into the country without proper labeling. Many of these imports come in the form of dried or liquid eggs, which are often chosen based on price rather than origin.
The RSPCA issued a caution that neglecting to protect domestic welfare standards while making trade agreements would result in a rise in low-quality imports. Bowles expressed worry about the potential elimination of tariffs on eggs imported from Canada, which could lead to a flood of low-quality egg products being sold in the UK.
Bowles urged the government to guarantee that all forthcoming trade deals, including those with the EU, are “tied to compliance with our regulations.”
According to him, the increase in imported goods from Poland indicates that we are still susceptible to caged eggs from other countries. He also stated that this could potentially harm and jeopardize the income of domestic egg farmers and undermines our own stricter standards.
According to a representative from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the egg industry in the UK operates within a competitive market where the value and trade of eggs are determined by those involved in the supply chain, such as farmers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. The UK takes pride in upholding high standards of animal welfare, which contribute to the production of high-quality British goods.
We will remain resolute in our trade discussions to guarantee that all upcoming trade agreements uphold the principles that benefit both farmers and consumers throughout the UK. We will also uphold our strict standards as a condition of any future free trade deals.