Eggs in the United Kingdom will be screened with UV light as a measure to prevent illegal eggs entering the market following the implementation of new EU welfare standards in January.
Tough action will be taken to improve welfare standards and living conditions for hens and prevent eggs produced in ‘battery cages’ being sold in the UK, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced.
An EU ban on battery cages comes in to effect on 1 January 2012, and the UK, the EU’s sixth largest egg producer, has long been calling for a tough EU enforcement regime to ensure welfare standards are driven up and prevent producers who have not dispensed with battery cages from profiting.
To overcome the fact that no European agreement was reached on enforcement, the British government has instead been working closely with the domestic egg industry, processors, food manufacturers, the food service sector and retailers to reach a voluntary consensus that they won’t sell or use battery-farmed eggs which will help British consumers to avoid unwittingly buying them.
“It is unacceptable that after the ban on battery cages comes into effect, around 50 million hens across Europe will still remain in poor conditions,” explained Paice.
“We have all had plenty of time to make these changes, but 13 EU nations have not done so. The UK egg industry alone has spent £400million ensuring hens live in better conditions. It would be unthinkable if countries continuing to house hens in poor conditions were to profit from flouting the law.”
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will use ultra violet light to identify batches of eggs that were not laid in the new, more welfare friendly cages. UV light picks up small marks left in the shell immediately after it has been laid, before it hardens. Any eggs which only show a pattern of wire marks will have been laid in the old battery cages, and will not be allowed to be sold as class A (whole) eggs.
With many retailers and major food suppliers putting in place stringent traceability tests to guarantee they will not supply eggs produced from illegal conventional cages or use them as ingredients in their own brand products, it will be difficult for producers who have not complied with the EU directive to find an outlet in the UK.
“We’re taking action to protect UK consumers and the egg industry by hitting producers who flout the law where it hurts – in their pockets,” added Paice.
13 Member States are unlikely to be compliant with directive by 1 January 2012, meaning an estimated 50 million hens will still be housed in battery cages by the time the ban comes into force.