The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) began legal proceedings against DEFRA in December last year after it said that imposing a ban on the export of eggs produced from illegal battery from within the EU would be an impossibility.
But following last-minute clarification of the government's position, explained in a letter from agriculture minister Jim Paice, received on March 6, the council had decided to suspend legal action.
Mark Williams, BEIC chairman, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that a decision had to be made soon about whether to move to the next stage of the judicial review legal proceedings. "There was a final process of our legal action with a deadline set three months after the start date of the proceedings," he said. "But after receiving the letter we will not be following on with the next stage of the judicial review.”
Paice's letter revealed that a deal between the European Commission and non-compliant Member States, reached last December, meant that eggs produced from the now illegal conventional cages could not be exported. Such eggs would be used only in the country of origin.
A DEFRA spokeswoman reaffirmed that EU trade laws made it impossible to ban illegal egg imports into the UK. "It [Paice's clarification] is not a formal ban. An egg produced in battery cages is illegal and no egg produced in this way can be sold as a whole egg. But it still can go into food manufacturing to produce a quiche for example.
"There is an agreement between the Commission and EU Member States that these eggs can be used in the manufacturing process but the final product must not be sold to compliant countries. This has been in place since December.”
A BEIC spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Following the letter from the minister, in which he also agreed to meet BEIC representatives shortly to discuss further issues affecting the egg industry, the BEIC has not proceeded with the next stage of the judicial review process.”
DEFRA welcomed the council’s decision to drop its legal action and confirmed it was scheduled to meet with the BEIC in “the near future”.
Last December, Paice said the government would be unable to ban the illegal eggs, describing it as an “unrealistic option”.
He said: “The government has thoroughly investigated the possibility of bringing in a UK ban on all imports of egg and egg products produced in conventional cages in other member states.
“However, given the very significant financial and legal implications, coupled with practical difficulties in enforcing it, it is not a realistic option.”
Yesterday (March 6) FoodManufacture.co.uk posted a Twitter message asking:“Has govnt. done U-turn on illegal egg import ban?”
Today DEFRA replied via Twitter: “No change to govt’s position on caged egg ban – EU taking action against non-compliant Member States.”
British egg producers have invested £400M in phasing out barren battery cages, to meet the requirements of EU legislation which came into force on January 1 2012. All British Lion cage eggs now come from new, enriched colony cages.
Yet producers in 13 other EU countries, including Spain, Italy and Poland, have not fully complied with the ban. It is estimated that around one-quarter of EU cage egg production does not meet the legal requirements, with some 50M hens still being kept in barren battery cages, producing more than 40M eggs a day.