Ian Jones, vice-chairman of British Lion Egg Processors, outlines the implications of the forthcoming EU ban on battery cages for egg production
With the food service industry in the UK using more than 2.5 billion eggs every year, a watershed is looming for the European egg industry, which caterers cannot afford to ignore. An EU-wide ban on the use of conventional battery cages for egg production comes into force in January 2012, so now is the time to get prepared and avoid the risk of using illegal eggs.
The EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive requires conventional battery cages to be replaced by larger and more animal welfare-friendly enriched cages, which have more space and height as well as a nest-box, litter, perches and claw-shortening devices.
While British Lion egg producers will meet the deadline to provide legally compliant eggs to their customers, the picture in the rest of the EU is much less certain. It is estimated that more than one-third of hens currently housed in conventional cages across the EU will not be in either enriched cages or non-cage systems when the deadline passes, resulting in a shortage of roughly 83 million eggs per day, or illegal battery cage eggs still being sold.
The impact and risk of illegal eggs is likely to be greatest in the egg products market where traceability of imported egg is more difficult once the product is out of its shell. In the UK, currently more than 30% of egg products are imported - this includes liquid egg and prepared products such as quiche and ready-made scrambled egg.
The British Lion Code of Practice ensures that eggs and egg products are produced to superior food safety and hygiene standards with all feed approved under the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS). The same standards cannot be guaranteed with imported products and legal compliance isn't the only reason to ensure supply. Earlier this year, imported dioxin-tainted liquid egg found its way to two food manufacturing companies.
Fortunately a number of operators and food manufacturers are starting to take action but they are still in the minority. To ensure the message hits home, the egg industry has launched a customer information campaign with the theme ‘The Clock is Ticking', featuring heavyweight advertising and direct marketing.
However, the British egg industry can't increase production overnight, so with less than a year before the directive is implemented there is a simple message for caterers: don't risk your reputation and get left with egg on your face! In 2012, British Lion eggs and egg products will be legally compliant and produced to the highest food safety standards, so specify them now.