Page last updated at 22:15 GMT, Monday, 14 November 2011

Peer's plea for crackdown on illegal egg imports

Conservative peer the Earl of Shrewsbury has called on the government to help the UK egg industry to remain competitive by banning the import of eggs which do not meet new welfare rules.

Lord Shrewsbury led a debate on 14 November 2011 on EU-wide rules coming into force in January 2012 which will require farmers to provide "enriched" cages giving birds more space, nesting and perching areas.

Some UK farmers are concerned that the new regime could put them at a disadvantage if cheaper imported eggs, which do not follow the guidelines, end up on retailers' shelves.

Lord Shrewsbury, who explained to peers that his son is an egg farmer, said "Great Britain is leading the field on agricultural welfare" but that this would come at "a considerable cost".

He was backed by fellow Conservative Lord Plumb, a former leader of the National Farmers Union who later became President of the European Parliament.

Lord Plumb said he feared the egg industry would go the way of the pig-farming sector, and drew attention to estimates showing that "a significant number" of conventional cages are still being used in countries such as Spain, France and Portugal.

Environment, food and rural affairs minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach told peers the government was looking at the possibility of banning the import of eggs that do not meet the new welfare standards.

But he admitted it would be difficult to bring in such a ban without the agreement of other EU member states.

"There are very significant legal challenges in instigating a unilateral ban. But at this stage such a move is still on the table," Lord Taylor said.

"UK egg producers must not be put at a disadvantage for leading the way on animal welfare issues," he added.

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