Farmers' fears over battery hens

Soon, it seems, our chicken farmers will have to face up to the threat from illegal imports.

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Image caption Robert Sturdy MEP: "Without a doubt, this will affect the egg industry"

Yes, that's illegal egg imports, however unlikely an image that conjures up.

You may find it hard to believe but these are the facts: 10 years ago the European Parliament decided to outlaw battery farming. The measure is to be introduced in 2012 and everyone's had 10 years to get ready. So far so good.

Apparently not, because once again our farmers have spent millions preparing to toe the line but - and it's a big but - the same cannot be said for some of our European partners.

Farmers and politicians in the East of England say it will be impossible to compete on price if millions of eggs are still being produced using the older, cheaper system. They believe they could be over-run by illegal imports or will lose markets on the continent.

'Dramatic effect'

Conservative MEP for the East of England, Robert Sturdy, said: "Without a doubt, this will affect the egg industry. We are now in a situation where our farmers have adapted and done the right thing and what's happened is that other countries are not following it at all and trying to put eggs produced in battery cages, which we've banned, back onto the market.

"Countries like Poland and Hungary have been buying our old battery cages with the intention of continuing to produce eggs under what we consider were appalling conditions, and then sell them back into the EU.

"The Commission have not answered the question as to whether or not they will be allowed to sell such eggs produced in Poland in Poland itself. It would have a dramatic effect on our markets because basically it will still put eggs back into the market in the EU."

The European Commission said: "Under the EU Treaties, if one member state considers that another has not fulfilled an obligation under the Treaties, it may refer the issue to the Court of Justice of the European Union, after having brought the matter before the Commission.

"However, both the European Parliament and the member states have called upon the Commission to adopt measures to limit the circulation of eggs which are not produced in compliance with the Laying Hens Directive, as from 1 January 2012.

"The Commission is currently carrying out a legal assessment to decide on possible initiatives in this direction, in particular as regards the substance of the measures that could be adopted and their proportionality."