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Egg industry launches Judicial Review proceedings

03/01/2012

The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has embarked on the first stage towards launching Judicial Review proceedings by formally writing to Defra to challenge the UK Government on its refusal to ban imports of illegally-produced battery cage eggs and egg products.
 
British egg producers have invested £400 million on phasing out barren battery cages, to meet the requirements of EU legislation which came into force on 1 January 2012, and all British Lion cage eggs now come from new, enriched colony cages.  
 
However producers in 13 other EU countries, including Spain, Italy and Poland, have not fully complied with the ban and it is estimated that around one-quarter of EU cage egg production will be illegal, with more than 50 million hens still being kept in barren battery cages, producing more than 40 million eggs a day.

The UK Government has refused to impose a ban on imports of illegal battery eggs and egg products, and the BEIC has now taken the first step in the Judicial Review process - a pre-action protocol letter - asking Defra to give a fuller explanation for its decision and to review its current position that the Government cannot do anything to prevent the importation of illegally produced eggs and egg products.  BEIC’s legal advice is that the Government has incorrectly interpreted the law and it believes that the Government must not condone the importation of illegal battery cage eggs and egg products into the UK.
 
Andrew Parker, BEIC Chairman, commented: “British egg producers have invested heavily to meet their legal obligations and improve animal welfare.  We now need our Government to support them by preventing unfair competition from producers in other countries who have not complied with the ban.

“EU member states have had more than 12 years to get their houses in order and comply with the new legislation, so there are no excuses.

“We’re asking the Government to conduct proper checks of imported eggs, egg products and products containing eggs entering UK ports, egg packing stations, processing plants, importers and wholesalers.  Otherwise, UK consumers could be eating eggs from illegal battery hens, and British egg producers will be seriously undermined, with the possible loss of thousands of jobs.”

Although the Government has said it will conduct checks of shell egg imports, it does not plan to check imported egg products or products containing eggs, meaning that illegal eggs can be used by UK food manufacturers and caterers in products such as quiche, egg mayonnaise and Scotch eggs, or be contained in finished foods containing eggs, imported from other EU countries

"This is ridiculous,” says Andrew Parker.  “All that is required is the production of proper supporting documentation with all eggs and egg related products entering the country, which is already a legal requirement on distributors.  This is standard traceability procedure operated throughout the food industry both here in the UK and in the EU so it should be a straightforward process for the Government to do the right thing, both ethically and legally."

The BEIC has launched a new website - www.legaleggs.com - and is calling for food companies and the public to sign its pledge to support British egg producers and help keep illegal eggs out of the UK.

 

Notes to editors:
 

  • BEIC is preparing to challenge the Government’s stance on the conventional battery cage ban via a Judicial Review.  This entails asking the Court to scrutinise Defra’s decision not to enforce a ban on imports of non-compliant eggs and egg products, alleging that Defra’s decision was made in consequence of an error of law.  Pre-action protocol requires BEIC to send a letter to Defra identifying the issues in dispute; Defra then has 14 days to reply.  If the reply is not satisfactory, it is then open to BEIC to apply to the Court for permission to commence proceedings through the Court.
  • The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive (Council Directive 1999/74/EC), which applies to establishments with over 350 laying hens, provides that conventional battery cage systems must not be used after 1 January 2012. After this date, caged hens must be kept in 'enriched' cages, which have more living space per hen (750 cm2 cage area per hen compared to 550 cm2 in conventional battery cages), more height, a nest, perching space and litter to allow pecking and scratching. In the UK, producers have installed larger ‘colony’ cages housing between 40-80 birds, which allows better use of the shared space. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs states that enriched cages result in a significant improvement in hen welfare compared to conventional cages
  • We eat more than 11bn eggs a year – 31m every day – and more than 23,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in egg production in the UK.  
  • More than half of the UK egg need is for food manufacturing (24%) and catering (30%) – already often from imported eggs.  It is likely that illegal eggs will be used in the production chain because they are cheaper.