You could unwittingly be eating non-British eggs or egg products imported from overseas European markets which have failed to comply with a new EU directive banning barren caged egg production (battery eggs).
While British egg farmers have invested an estimated £400 million to comply with the new regulations, up to a third of other EU member states are still not ready.
This will result in millions of laying hens remaining in their barren cages and the potential for millions of illegal eggs entering the UK as a cheaper alternative to higher welfare British eggs.
Jane Howorth, founder of national charity the British Hen Welfare Trust, said: “Three billion eggs are processed in the UK every year, sold as liquid, dried or frozen egg to the food industry. One billion of these eggs are currently imported and therein lies the worry.
“It is likely that not only will consumers be unwittingly eating illegal eggs produced to lower welfare standards, but we will also be putting British egg farmers at a serious commercial disadvantage, as they struggle to compete with overseas markets that continue to flout the rules.”
The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive (Council Directive 1999/74/EC), which came into effect on January 1, is the first piece of legislation banning a specific method of food production on the grounds of animal welfare, has sought to abolish the barren cage system (which allows 550cm2 per hen, less than an A4 sheet of paper), to be replaced by the enriched cage system, which allows 750cm2 per hen.
Jane said: “While we would of course always prefer to see continued growth of small, free-range flocks, we would rather see the new enriched cage production in the UK than imports of caged eggs from countries where we have no control over welfare.
“Unlike the barren cage, the enriched cage does allow the birds to stretch their wings, roost, scratch and lay eggs in a nest box, meeting their basic, natural behavioural needs.”
The British Hen Welfare Trust has enjoyed enormous appeal with the public since the charity was set up in 2005 and in that time has re-homed over 300,000 battery hens, with re-homing figures doubling year on year. Recent statistics show that there has been a resurgence in the popularity of backyard hen-keeping, with over half a million households keeping hens across the UK.
To find out more or to support the work of the British Hen Welfare Trust, please email [email protected], go to www.bhwt.org.uk or call 01769 580310