Jim Paice on EU Hen Welfare Measures and the Consumer

CHRIS MANN: The Agriculture Minister Jim Paice is today issuing advice to British consumers, so they can be sure they don’t buy battery eggs, once the EU-wide ban comes in on New Year’s Day. Mr Paice, the MP for South East Cambridgeshire, talked to me about the ban during a visit to Cambridge today. 13 out of 27 nations in the EU say they will not comply with the ban. The Government says it has taken steps to protect UK farmers from being undercut, by gaining agreement by supermarkets not to sell illegal eggs, as Mr Paice explained to me. (TAPE)
JIM PAICE: Well in the UK we’re very certain that it’s almost 100%. There will be a small number of producers still in the old battery systems, but in the UK they will virtually all have gone by the end of January. Simply they just need to clear the hens out and arrange for them to be slaughtered, as always happens.
CHRIS MANN: And I think the public opinion is very much in favour of that. People don’t like to see those images.
JIM PAICE: I think this is an iconic animal welfare issue, that people have campaigned against battery cages for (LAUGHS) most of my life. And it came in twelve years ago, so nobody and no country can say they haven’t had time. Even newer members states in the EU have had. They knew what they were joining, and the commitment that was there. I should say that we believe about half of Europe will be compliant, but 13 member states have said that they will not be fully compliant by then. We think that is disgraceful and outrageous. The challenge we’ve had is how we make sure that those eggs don’t enter our market. We import about 18% of total eggs and egg products that we use in the UK, and we need to protect our producers, who’ve made the big investment.
CHRIS MANN: Well we’ll talk in a moment about how people can find out and make sure they’re buying the right thing, but what excuse are these nations giving?
JIM PAICE: Well they’re not really giving any excuse, other than, I suppose, the issue that their producers haven’t got the money to invest. But it isn’t an excuse. Our producers have found the resources to make about £400 million worth of investment in new systems, and it’s no excuse. And we’re just not prepared to tolerate that. What really worries me, if I may say so, is that .. and this is really relevant to East Anglia .. that on the 1st January in 2013, a year’s time, Europe brings in a ban on keeping sows, the female pigs, in stalls. We banned them twelve, fourteen years ago. The ban took effect then. We haven’t had them. That’s going to be a much bigger issue across Europe. And if we can’t get it right with eggs, it doesn’t bode very well for how we deal with it next year, which for the East Anglian pig producers, would be quite horrendous.
CHRIS MANN: Well this is actually how the EU touches people’s lives in a real way all the time.
JIM PAICE: Indeed. Indeed.
CHRIS MANN: Are you comfortable being in a partnership with countries that think it’s alright to cram hens into these batteries?
JIM PAICE: Well I can assure you that being a Minister for Agriculture and having to travel into Brussels for meetings almost every week, sometimes, it does get very frustrating. I’m not going to deny that. But for other reasons I think it’s the right place for us to be. But yes, when countries don’t fulfil the commitment that they willingly enter into, it is very worrying. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges for the EU, not just in animal welfare, but a whole range of other things. But in my responsibility, yes, both in battery cages and as I say, coming up is sow stalls, we have to make sure that when countries sign up they do it.
CHRIS MANN: OK, so the pressure is there on them to behave, and change their ways. But as we know, that won’t happen for a while.
JIM PAICE: That’s right.
CHRIS MANN: There may well be an attempt to import to this country some products that are not legal. How do people spot it? How do they make sure they’re buying the right thing?
JIM PAICE: Well because we’ve not been able to fulfil and carry out an absolute ban, because some of the products coming in would be perfectly lawful. And as with especially egg powder and liquid egg, which goes for manufacturing, and with Class B eggs, which are also manufacturing, there’s no way of identifying from them the source of them, in other words whether they are from legal systems or from illegal cages. But what we’ve done is therefore to persuade the supermarkets, all of them, not just the very big ones but a big range of supermarkets, the major food manufacturers like the people who make Mr Kipling for example, Allied Biscuits, a lot of other companies, and indeed companies that import powdered egg and liquid egg, they have all .. and I’ve published the list; I won’t go through it now. I’ve published that list and will update it .. they have all agreed to ensure that their own traceability systems make sure that they are only buying products .. the lawful product. And that’s the way to do it. So I urge consumers, Cambridge people and others, to make sure, firstly they’re buying from a supermarket, if they’re buying that supermarket’s own brand, then they can be sure that they are buying lawful products. If they buy from one of the major manufacturers of processed food, such as I say Mr Kipling or Allied Biscuits .. there’s a whole range and I can publish that. I have published the list .. then they can be sure that they are supporting British farmers effectively, which is I’m sure what everybody wants to do.
CHRIS MANN: The reason that people would buy anything other than the right eggs, or in the future anything other than the right sows, is price. It’s the foreigners undercutting us, would you think is the danger?
JIM PAICE: Yes, that’s right. Putting money, the £400 million that British farmers have put in to these new systems, somehow they’ve got to get that money back. And that means that there is going to be an opportunity for people with criminal intent to import into this country ..
CHRIS MANN: On a big scale.
JIM PAICE: .. well it won’t be that big. That’s why I’m trying to squeeze the scale down. And I think I’ve actually shrunk it by persuading the bulk of the market to do their own policing, if you like. We have shrunk the market, throttled the market, so actually I don’t think, I’m quite confident, there’s going to be very little opportunity to sell those products in this country. But yes, as you rightly suggest, we encourage the consumer to be vigilant.

17:20 Wednesday 21st December 2011
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Retailers, food manufacturers and food service companies and processors have come out publically in support of UK egg producers. The British Retail Consortium has guaranteed that conventional caged eggs will not be bought by the major retailers or used as ingredients in their own–brand products. They have put in place stringent traceability tests to ensure that they will not be buying conventional caged eggs.Retailers that have made this guarantee are Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Asda, J Sainsbury, Co-operative Group, Tesco, Waitrose, Iceland Foods, Greggs, Starbucks and McDonald’s. Many food manufacturers and food service companies have also given a similar guarantee for eggs or egg products. They include: Premier Foods plc, Marlow Foods Ltd, United Biscuits, Ferrero UK, Apetito, Allied Mills, Allied Bakeries, Burton’s Biscuit Company, Speedibake, Dairy Crest, The Silver Spoon Company, Westmill Foods, Compass, Baxter Storey, and Sodexo. The following egg processors have also signed up to not sourcing conventional caged eggs from 1 January 2012: Manton’s, Noble Foods, Framptons, Fridays, Oaklands Farm Eggs, Lowrie Foods, and the UK Egg Centre. Defra is in discussion with others and hopes to be able to add further names to this list.DEFRA