Caterers run the risk of flouting forthcoming EU legislation if they buy eggs from European battery farmed hens.
New EU rules will come into force on 1 January 2012, banning the use of battery cages. Hens can instead be kept in enriched colony cages, which provide more space and a higher standard of welfare.
But the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has warned that many European countries will flout the ban by continuing to use the battery cages and will sell these eggs to the UK.
The BEIC has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to ban such imports and protect the UK egg industry, which has so far spent £400m on meeting the new legislation. So far, 90% of British Lion eggs comply with the new guidelines, and all will be up to the new standards by 1 January.
However a new report commissioned by the BEIC has found that more than a third of EU cage egg production will break the new rules. With 20% of Britain's £11b a year egg needs met through imports, the UK market is at risk of being flooded by cheap illegal eggs that undermine the British egg industry.
Mark Williams, chief executive of BEIC, said that British Egg Week, which starts today, is a time to celebrate the success of the UK egg industry, but also to raise awareness of the serious threat from illegal imports from Europe.
"The lack of action from the European Commission so far is staggering. EU member states have had more than 12 years to get their houses in order and comply with the new legislation, so there should be no excuses," he said. "The European Commission needs to act now to ensure that UK producers do not suffer at the hands of illegal eggs and egg products."
Williams said that while the UK Government continues to be supportive of British egg producers, it has failed to back this up with any real action. He added: "We'd like to see a complete ban on eggs and egg products that don't comply with the rules, to ensure that British consumers know exactly what they are getting. The Government has to come off the fence and find a practical enforcement solution."
By Janie Stamford
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