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Written Statement - Imports of Eggs from the EU

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Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes

On 1 January 2012, the EU Directive 1999/74 introduces a ban on the use of conventional cages (battery) for laying hens across the EU.  Birds kept for laying will no longer be able to be housed in conventional cages.  This directive has been implemented to address animal welfare concerns by laying down minimum standards for laying hens.

The industry has expressed concern with regard to potentially unfair competition from the importation of eggs from other EU Countries where production conditions may not be compliant with the new law. I wanted to make a statement to update you all on how we will proceed in Wales to protect our industry from 2012 onwards. 

The majority of UK producers are likely to be compliant by the implementation date but I do recognise industry concerns about the implementation in other Member States and the potential illegal (battery) eggs being placed on the market.  We are doing all we can to protect the industry.

The Welsh Egg industry has invested a large amount of money to ensure it complies with the conventional cage ban; and industry figures suggest that UK egg producers as a whole have invested £400 million to comply with this legislation.  

Our membership of the European Union prevents us from banning imports of eggs from other EU member states.  The EU has strict requirements to ensure there is free trade between member states and a ban on egg imports would breach those requirements. 

Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) maintain a register of packing centres and wholesalers which includes details of which premises handle imported eggs.   There are five establishments in Wales registered to receive imported egg directly from EU member states.   From 1 January 2012, AHVLA Inspectors in Wales will inspect these premises as normal but refocus their efforts specifically to check imported eggs and undertake specific checks to determine whether those eggs are derived from hens reared in conventional cages.  Where inspectors find eggs they suspect have been produced in conventional cage systems in contravention of the EU legislation they will hold these eggs whilst an enquiry is lodged with the Member State of origin to confirm the origin and integrity of the eggs. 

Within Europe, the UK Government as the Member State representative is continuing to lobby the EU to ensure all Member States comply by the implementation date, or put measures in place to protect compliant producers and Member States from unfair competition.  I am actively engaged in this process and recently attended the Special Committee on Agriculture meeting in Brussels where this issue was discussed.