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Worries over the return of battery eggs after Brexit

Sustain members Compassion in World Farming have warned that the Government’s plans to reduce tariffs on overseas egg imports to 0% could see eggs from battery-caged hens back on our menus.

CIWF joined forces with the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) to warn that that we could potentially open the door to the import of eggs produced in cages that have been banned in the UK since 2012.

Last week (13 March), the Government announced the tariff rates that would be imposed on imports in the event of no deal Brexit, and appears to have responded to concerns about producers working in the diary, poultry, lamb and beef farming sectors. While 87% of imports will have 0% tariffs, those farming sectors will be protected, along with fully finished cars, shoes and some clothes. But the imports on eggs will be set at zero in the UK, potentially undermining the rules on hen welfare. The EU currently imposes tariffs on eggs and egg products.

Peter Stevenson, the chief policy adviser at CIWF, told the Guardian last week: “If the government fails to protect UK farmers from cheap, low-welfare imports, it will be impossible for it to honour its commitment to using Brexit to achieve gold-standard levels of animal welfare.”

This morning, he followed up those comments with an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today.

Peter Stevenson “The risk is that we’re going to see egg products, mainly egg powder, being imported into the UK from countries like the US, Ukraine, Argentina and India because these countries have got much lower production costs than we have. The reasons their costs are lower is because they use barren battery cages which have been banned here since 2012 whereas our farmers have to use enriched cages or barn or free range systems.

So dropping tariffs and allowing egg powder imports will undermine our farmers and isn’t fair to consumers most of whom don’t want to see battery egg products coming back on our shelves.

Isn’t the issue the tariff? Couldn’t the government say that we don’t accept egg powder if it comes from a battery chicken?

Yes they could. They’ve got two ways of stopping low welfare imports. One is through tariffs which is the way it’s currently done, the other is to simply say we simply won’t accept imports of either shell egss or egg products that come from battery hens. The Government is frightened about doing this because of World Trade Organisation Rules but I’m a lawyer whose worked in this field for many years and I think the WTO rules would allow us to say we don’t want imports of low welfare products, that we will only accept products produced to welfare standards equivalent to our own.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the impact any type of Brexit might have on animal welfare standards across the board. The government and indeed the SoS MG have said over and over again, they will not see any lowering of animal welfare standards. Haven’t they?

For 2 years now, the Government has promised that Brexit would not lead to the import of products produced to animal welfare standards lower than those of the UK. And here now, at the very first time of asking, they are going back on their word, they are scrapping tariffs and we could well see low welfare, battery eggs coming back into this country. The Government have said that they won’t strike a deal that would lead to the import of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef but after their decision on eggs, can we trust them? Will they really stick to their word?

There is a flip side : If you label it and you leave it to the consumer then that’s fair enough

Even if these products were labelled they should not be allowed into this country. They undermine our farmers who produce to higher welfare standards than countries like the US and the Ukraine. The Government has actually promised that Brexit will lead to improved animal welfare but if they can’t protect our farmers from cheap low welfare imports, farmers will understandably resist being asked to improve their welfare standards.





Published Monday 18 March 2019

Good Food Trade Campaign: Campaigning for good trade that benefits people and the planet at home and overseas.

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