Low-welfare eggs are flooding into the UK from abroad, a recent media report has claimed, amid warnings that the effects of Brexit could cause even more to be imported.
Official data reveals that between 2021 and August 2023 the number of eggs imported from Poland rose by more than 2,000 per cent from 46 consignments to 1,095. The number imported from Italy also increased by almost 300 per cent between 2022 and 2023 from 72 consignments to 279, according to figures from the Animal and Plant Health Agency, The Guardian stated in a report.
The total number of consignments imported went from 422 in 2021 to 2,120 in 2022, and has already reached 2,536 in the first eight months of 2023.
Experts have raised the warning that the quality of products from these countries could be lower. A recent report showed that a large salmonella outbreak earlier this year was linked to Polish eggs. Concern has also been raised that post-Brexit trade deals could lead to a further decline in quality as low-welfare eggs from caged hens enter the UK.
Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said she was “staggered” by the import figures for the first eight months of 2023.
“When the medical advice is to eat British Lion eggs [stamped to show they have been produced in accordance with a code of practice], why on earth would they be importing eggs produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK?” she asked.
“It raises serious questions as to whether the government is checking food imports given the ongoing delays in the border target operating model.”
Gary Ford, the deputy chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, stated that it was “very disappointing” to see imports growing, “particularly at a time when British producers have been struggling due to poor returns”.
The increase in imports comes amid shortages of stock in the country, which began in late 2022 after egg farmers cut production because of spiraling costs due to food and energy price rises. UK egg production declined 8 per cent in 2022 and 10 per cent this year, according to official data.
Concern has been raised that the quality of eggs could decline further as post-Brexit trade deals see the reintroduction of battery eggs.
Earlier in July, British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA have joined forces to urge the UK government to reconsider its decision to exclude eggs as a sensitive sector in the recently agreed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The representatives said the government has ignored industry warnings that the deal allows the import of eggs from countries using conventional battery cage systems that were made illegal in the UK in 2012 as the agreement allows for import tariffs on eggs and egg products to be phased out over a 10-year period.
According to BEIC, the danger to British consumers was that egg products could be imported from countries like Mexico, which almost exclusively relies on battery cages for egg production. Such imports would undercut British egg producers who operate to significantly higher standards of animal welfare and world-leading food safety standards under the British Lion Code of Practice.