The Government has been accused of letting down British farmers after it decided against banning the sale of illegally produced eggs from battery hens.
Farming Minister Jim Paice announced that Defra would introduce “tough action” to prevent the sale of battery hen eggs, which will be illegal in the European Union from the start of next year.
The action stops short of an outright ban, however, and instead proposes a “voluntary consensus” between food manufacturers and retailers that they will not sell the eggs.
Since the EU announced it wanted to ban battery hen farming, British egg producers have invested £400m on phasing out battery cages.
Producers in 13 other EU countries, including Spain and Italy, have ignored the ban, leading to fears jobs will be lost as British farmers are undercut by cheap eggs from these countries.
Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), said: “The UK egg industry feels totally let down by the Government. Whilst we have received repeated platitudes of support from Defra, it has failed to back these up with any real action. We need to see a complete ban on any illegally produced eggs, egg products and foods containing illegal eggs from 1 January 2012.”
Mr Williams added that legal advice confirmed the UK Government is able to ban illegal eggs.
Mr Paice said: “British shoppers should be reassured that, as long as they buy food containing eggs from those companies who have guaranteed not to use or sell eggs from battery cages, they will be supporting higher welfare standards and British egg producers.”