The whole infrastructure of European egg production will be decimated ifcurrent legislation to improve animal welfare is allowed to passunhindered into European law, without protection against importsproduced to lower standards.
This is the stark warning from anindependent new report from renowned research body, the NetherlandsAgriculture Economics Research Institute, commissioned by EUWEP, theEU trade association for egg packers, traders and processors.
The threat to the European industry comes in the wake of legislation toimprove the welfare of laying hens, under EU Directive 99/74/EC, whichis set to be fully implemented by 2012.
While European producers will have to use new, animal welfare-friendly,systems of production, producers from outside the EU do not have suchrestrictions placed on them. Instead, the current WTO tariffs, whichhelp to protect the already higher standards of European producers, arethemselves coming under threat.
P L M van Horne, the author of the report, said: "The current situationis bordering on disastrous for the EU egg industry. Not only is ithaving to deal with the costs and restrictions of impending animalwelfare legislation, but also the potential double blow of reduced oreliminated tariff protection."
There is no animal welfare legislation to protect laying hens in thenon-EU countries investigated by the report, and no restriction onpractices such as feeding meat and bone meal to hens, which is banned inthe EU. Those countries, which may pose a major threat to the EU, suchas the US, India, Brazil and Ukraine allow birds far less space, oftenwith six birds in a conventional cage with less than half the space perhen.
These countries also have less restrictive regulations than theEU in many other areas including environmental protection, food safetyand animal health, which all add significantly to the cost ofproduction.
While the number of third countries likely to be able to export shelleggs to the EU is likely to remain restricted by the cost andpracticalities of transport, the report projects that under certainscenarios, Ukraine and India would be able to compete in 2012. And inthe growing market for processed eggs, countries such as Brazil, the US,Ukraine and India will all be able to supply egg powder at significantlylower prices by 2012, which will make a significant proportion of eggproduction and processing unviable for the EU egg industry.
Mark Williams, Secretary-General of EUWEP, said: "This report highlightsthe huge restrictions faced by the European egg industry. European eggproducers already have the highest standards of animal welfare in theworld and the new legislation sets even higher standards. However, weare in grave danger of losing our market to cheaper imports,particularly in egg products, produced to lower standards, which willflood an already competitive marketplace. This, in turn, could result inthe loss of one third of EU egg production.
"The EU egg industry is responding to demands for improved animalwelfare, yet this will be meaningless if we are unable to competewithout protection against imports from countries with no suchstandards. Politicians need to decide what their priorities are.
"The current situation is a disaster waiting to happen - not just forthe EU egg industry and for all those concerned about animal welfare,but also for EU consumers, who will find products produced to currenthigh standards are no longer available."