Who would have guessed it but the number of eggs being imported into the UK is soaring. Imports from Poland are up 2,000% in two years. Imports of Italian eggs are up by 300%.
Meanwhile higher energy and meal costs mean that UK egg production has plummeted. All of those imported eggs will have come into the country without being checked, because the UK government has once again delayed the introduction of the post-Brexit testing regime. The reason is that the government isn’t ready, and industry is warning that it is not prepared for the disruption that testing would cause.
This was all warned about. The National Farmers Union and other farming groups saw it coming a mile off. On top of all those other Brexit-related problems, the farming sector has been hit hard by the war in Ukraine, far worse than other areas of the economy.
As Minette Batters, president of the NFU, told the organisation’s annual conference this year, the farming industry is under attack from all sides. She told the audience that “huge cost inflation” has caused the cost of agricultural inputs to increase by 50% since 2019. The list of cost rises is grim. “Fertilisers up 169%. Energy up 79%. Animal feed up 57%.”
As a consequence, she said, “UK egg production has fallen to its lowest level in nine years. Which means there were nearly a billion less eggs produced in 2022 compared to 2019. Production of salad ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers are expected to fall to the lowest levels since records began in 1985.”
It all helps explain why, when compared to supermarkets in France or Norway, the fruit and veg sections often look threadbare. The egg shortage is just another manifestation of the underlying issues.
That egg shortage has huge knock-on effects – they are an essential ingredient in hundreds if not thousands of other products: cakes, pasta, ready meals and sandwiches, and they are a central driver of the increase in food inflation.
But now the egg industry and animal welfare bodies are warning that the deal the UK has signed to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will allow the import of eggs produced in battery cages – these were made illegal in the UK in 2012. Yet again the UK government was so desperate to get its signature on the deal – any deal – that it was willing to abandon food standards and British farmers to get the headlines it wanted.
It is no surprise that the EU has just walked away from a trade deal with Australia. It was not willing to do the same.
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