Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Rule changes set to spark exodus from egg industry

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

A shortage of home-produced eggs for the domestic market will be a reality by the end of next year as strict new EU laws on poultry units come into force.

Under the new regulations, which were passed into Irish law in June and come into force from January 1, 2012, it will be illegal to sell eggs from conventional caged birds.

Producers will be required to keep their hens in 'enriched cages', which provide a more natural environment for the birds.

However, industry sources have claimed that 94pc of Irish egg units do not meet the new welfare requirements.

While many egg producers plan to convert next year, it is feared that too many farmers need to overhaul their production systems in too short a space of time.

The problem stems from producers who waited for details of a Department of Agriculture grant scheme.

As a result, most farmers will only be in a position to convert their units next summer.

Monaghan egg producer Gordon McConkey maintained that there were choppy waters ahead for the industry.

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"Nobody really knows if we'll all be able to establish these new units in time," he said.

Despite a fund of €16m being made available by the Department of Agriculture, just one in 20 of the eggs produced here meet these new standards.

In contrast, 60pc of conventionally produced eggs in Britain already meet the new requirements.

However, other EU countries could be even worse off.

Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness says that the European egg industry is warning that almost 30pc of hens will be in the 'non-compliant' cage systems by 2012.

"We're talking about a staggering 100m hens -- producing 85m eggs a day. So, on January 1, 2012, there could be 85m eggs on that day alone that cannot be sold legally in the EU. The annual figure would be 33bn eggs," she said.

McGuinness warned of a justified public outcry if these vast numbers of eggs were simply dumped because they were not eligible for sale.

The EU Commission has said there is no question of postponing the deadline, since EU member states have had some time to implement the legislation.

Irish egg producers currently produce more than 1.5m eggs a day. Up to 30pc are produced in free-range systems, which are unaffected by the new EU directive. However, conventional producers are worried about losing market share to imports if they cannot maintain a consistent supply.

"The hairy period will be the six months from March 2011. "It'll be natural for some disruption in supply," said Mr McConkey.

"If the majority of producers are starting off fresh with young birds, they will only be able to produce small eggs at first. It'll take months before their flocks can produce large eggs."

Meanwhile, the changeover to the new standards is expected to result in the biggest reduction in producers in the sector's history. Some believe that less than one-third of producers will still be in production by 2012.

There are 91 conventional egg producers registered with the Department of Agriculture. Estimates of the number that will convert to the new standards vary from 25 to 40.

Irish Independent