Return of battery eggs

26 November 2012    
Patricia van der Kammen (NI)


The European Union has introduced a ban on chicken batteries. At the same time, there are plans to halve import duties on eggs from outside the EU, including Ukraine, the USA, India and Argentina. It is strange that it should be permitted to import into the EU eggs from production systems which are banned in Europe.

Reducing or abolishing these import duties is all well and good from the point of view of free trade and keeping trade barriers to a minimum, which are such important objectives. However, the high import duties did have the side-effect of preventing mass imports of (cheap) battery eggs, concerning which there are animal welfare issues.

The plans to halve the import duty are disastrous for the competitive position of the Dutch (and indeed European) egg industry. As chicken batteries are no longer permitted in the EU, the cost price per egg has risen by a few cents. If eggs can be imported from countries where batteries, with all the associated animal welfare problems, are permitted without any price barrier, this will generate unfair competition.

1. Is the Commission aware of the report ‘Batterijei komt terug’ [Return of battery eggs]?(1)

2. Does the Commission agree that there are animal welfare problems associated with chicken batteries? Does the Commission agree that this does not accord with Article 13 TFEU, which stipulates that ‘the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals’?

3. Why is the import duty on eggs from outside the EU to be halved? In considering this matter, did the Commission take into account the impact of unfair competition in the light of the EU’s animal welfare policy, as referred to in the newspaper article?

4. Does the Commission agree that it should not be permitted to import battery eggs into the EU, on grounds of animal welfare?

5. In the interests of animal welfare, will the Commission ensure that in future the only eggs which may be imported into the EU are those from production systems to which the same animal welfare requirements apply as to eggs within the EU?



Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware of the LEI study ‘Competitiveness of the egg industry’(1).

The decision to ban unenriched cages in the EU is based on strong scientific evidence that shows that unenriched cages do not satisfy laying hens' behavioural needs and have severe implications for their welfare. The EU position with regard to ending ‘conventional battery cages’ is thus clear.

At present, other than autonomous preferences given to developing countries(2), the only tariff reduction which applies in the egg sector consists of an in-quota tariff which is reduced by 50% for an annual tariff quota of 135 000 t of eggs(3) as part of the EU's WTO commitments This quota has almost not been used until now. Two additional quotas, each one of 3 000 tons, are expected to be opened in the framework of a free trade agreement currently under ratification. The total EU imports of eggs and egg products did not increase in 2012 compared to the years 2009 and 2010 and currently imports of table eggs are negligible.

According to the current WTO framework, EU standards related to animal welfare on the farm cannot be imposed on third countries. However, where guarantees regarding the equivalency of rules on marketing, labelling and farming methods are not provided, table eggs imported from third countries shall bear the following indication: ‘non-EC standard’ demonstrating that they have not been produced with a farming method equivalent with that in use in the EU(4).

(2)    Scheme of generalised tariff preferences as well as preferences for ACP countries.
(3)    Commission Regulation (EC) No 539/2007 of 15 May 2007 opening and providing for the administration of tariff quotas in the egg sector and for egg albumin, OJ L 128, 16.5.2007.
(4)    Commission Regulation (EC) No 589/2008 of 23 June 2008 laying down detailed rules for implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 as regards marketing standards for eggs, OJ L 163, 24.6.2008.