Egg producers fear affect of ‘substandard’ imports due to tariff exceptions

Adrian Potter with rows of eggs in trays at James Potter Eggs at Catton near Thirsk.
Adrian Potter with rows of eggs in trays at James Potter Eggs at Catton near Thirsk.
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High welfare egg production demanded of poultry farms in Britain is are risk of being seriously undermined by a potential “flood” of eggs produced from caged birds, one of Yorkshire’s largest egg producers has warned.

Caged eggs have been banned in the UK since 2012 on animal cruelty grounds but the domestic market could be inundated with supplies from other countries after eggs and egg products were excluded from a list of imported products that would face tariffs if the Government fails to strike a deal with the European Union.

Adrian Potter, director of Thirsk-based free range egg producer James Potter Eggs, said the industry had expected eggs to be listed as protected products in the schedule of potential trade tariffs in the event of a no-deal.

Without similar temporary protections that have been put in place for the likes of beef, lamb, pork, poultry meat and some dairy products, when Britain leaves the EU there is nothing to stop shell eggs being imported that could be from a battery cage or of a lower quality, he said.

Mr Potter, whose family-run enterprise comprises of six farms and more than 300,000 hens, said processed egg and powdered egg products are much easier and cheaper to transport and import and therefore could massively undercut the costs faced by domestic producers who are bound to stricter animal welfare rules.

The British Egg Industry Council and animal welfare agencies are currently lobbying ministers to seek assurances that egg products from non-EU countries, where animal welfare standards are significantly lower, will not hit the UK market.

Last year, 13.2 billion eggs were consumed in the UK and only 1.9bn of them were imported.

Mr Potter said: “The egg industry does not receive any subsidies and we are very proud that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world and under the Lion scheme we also have the safest eggs.

“The Government has shown its commitment to sustainability under the new Agricultural Bill that requires the industry to meet even higher environmental standards. Whilst these are all positive and welcomed by the industry and consumers alike, it does come at a cost.

“Whilst we are not asking for an unfair advantage, tariffs are a useful mechanism that recognises the benefits to health, welfare and environment, whilst not disadvantaging the industry at the same time.

“It’s crucial for the future of our farmers that tariffs are in place for a fair playing field or at the very least better food labelling.”

Mr Potter added: “As things stand, it could be a massive step backwards for all of us who have campaigned, invested and worked hard to get to the amazing quality of eggs we have now in Britain, notwithstanding all the benefits around animal welfare and the environment.

“To not protect the British egg industry just doesn’t make sense.”

Food labelling concerns stem from the fact that under current rules, food packaging used for products containing processed egg and powdered egg - such as ready meals and cakes - usually only states ‘egg’ as an ingredient with no mention of welfare standards or country of origin.

Mr Potter said he wanted stronger labelling rules in the future so that consumers have a clear choice about which products they buy.

A government spokeswoman said: “Our transitional tariff regime will help to protect British jobs and avoid consumer price increases if we leave the European Union without an agreement.

“This is a temporary measure and we will be monitoring the economy closely, as well as consulting with businesses to decide what our tariffs should be after this transition period.”

TARIFF PROTECTIONS ARE NOT UNIVERSAL

Proposed tariffs on goods imported into the UK in a no-deal scenario have been met with a mixed reaction from farming organisations.

The Government has revealed plans for a mixture of tariffs and quotas on beef, lamb, pork, poultry meat and some dairy to support farmers and producers whose markets have historically been protected through high EU tariffs, but the National Farmers’ Union said the absence of similar protections for eggs, cereals, fruit and vegetables is “enormously worrying”.

Even with a sensitive tariff regime, the National Sheep Association said a no deal will still see far higher volumes of lamb imports and that existing quotas with the Australia and New Zealand will continue.