Page last updated at 13:15 GMT, Thursday, 19 January 2012

Tory peer attacks 'feeble' response to eggs failure

A Conservative peer has criticised the government's "feeble" response to the failure of many countries to comply with new European rules on welfare of hens.

Earl Cathcart, who produces eggs on his Norfolk farm, said he had been "appalled" by the government's handling of the situation, as he raised the matter during question time on 19 January 2012.

UK farmers say they have spent £400m meeting new rules, brought in on 1 January this year, banning battery cages for hens.

Hens must be kept in at least "enriched"' cages with extra space to nest, scratch and roost.

However, as many as 13 EU countries have failed to comply with the legislation, raising fears that British producers will suffer as a result of cheap imports of eggs and egg products.

Speaking in the Lords, Earl Cathcart asked: "Why doesn't the government see what a devastating effect this will have on the UK's legal egg industry which quite frankly is stunned by the government's feeble response?"

The UK had been promised a level playing field when it joined the common market in 1973, he said, and asked: "After 40 years isn't it about time we got one?"

Food Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said he shared Lord Cathcart's "frustration".

"The government has fully investigated the possibility of taking unilateral action and bringing in a UK ban on imports of egg and egg products which have been produced in conventional cages in other EU member states," he said.

"However, given that there are very significant legal and financial implications in enforcing such a ban coupled with practical difficulties in enforcing it, this is not a realistic option."

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