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Industry Experts Discuss Egg Output Forecasts

by 5m Editor
7 October 2010, at 10:56a.m.

EU - Industry experts from across the EU met in Brussels on 4 October to provide poultry production estimates to the European Commission for this year and next, focusing especially on the impact of the battery cage ban for laying hens from 2012.

This meeting comes at a critical time for the industry and provided an insight into how other states will be performing on the eve the EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive bites, according to a report of the meeting from the UK's National Farmers Union. And although most aspects of the wider wider poultry industry were touched upon, most of the time was devoted to contentions in the egg sector.

Large amounts of processed North American egg exports have caused a price plunge across Europe. US exports to the EU were up 120 per cent year-on-year and Mexican 123 per cent.

On production, representatives of three of the largest producing nations, accounting for 39 per cent of EU production, stated that they will not be able to meet the 1 January 2012 welfare deadline.

The French expert said that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of production – upwards of eight million laying birds – will be non-compliant after the date. The Spanish said that it would take four years to be compliant and the Italian expert gave no figure but said producers would miss the date. Although much smaller, Portugal voiced concerns over compliance too.

It is clear that the Southern European countries are having problems complying and perhaps this is not surprising. Climate issues mean that growers cannot convert to free-range systems because of heat waves and must invest in colony cage systems.

However, French growers have no such issues. The absence of representation from the Benelux countries and Germany's early adoption of requirements demonstrates that northern European producers, bar France, are having no such compliance issues.

Surprisingly, the French expert highlighted bank lending as the problem. France was the only country in the EU not to go into recession throughout the credit crunch, so claims that banks are not lending to French growers appear to hold little water. The Spanish and Portuguese experts both said rural development money was being used.

In the UK, the deadline will almost certainly be met. Producers have invested heavily in new technology and moved away from indoor systems. In the UK, the egg market has firmed after several months of falling prices, although much of that has been the result of supply control measures rather than extra demand. Statistics from a number of sources indicate the average farm is loss-making, and while losses are more severe where farms are independent from a contract, this will inevitably slow the expansion in capacity we have seen throughout the last 18 months.

It is important that the UK joins with other EU states to ensure that the debt producers have taken on complying with the new regulations is rewarded and not punished.

Elsewhere, all turkey-producing nations reported that they expected to see falls in production. Overall, UK poultry meat production has expanded by six per cent during 2010 and production is expected to decline marginally in 2011 as imports become more competitive. The Irish expert keenly pointed out competition from the UK had pushed most of Irish production into exports, exports that have strangely enough ended up into the UK.

For further information on what the NFU is doing on the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive, click here.