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UK Poultry Industry Downbeat

1 December 2011, at 10:10am

ANALYSIS - The mood at the recent meeting of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) was distinctly downbeat, reports senior editor of ThePoultrySite, Jackie Linden.

The 20th anniversary of the event turned out to be little cause for celebration as egg producers are going through difficult times. While sales volumes are holding up well in these hard times, one source said that 25 per cent of eggs sold in the country are now on special offer, trimming producer margins further. Concern was expressed that free-range eggs are becoming seen as a commodity.

Attending the BFREPA annual meeting and conference over the past few years, one has the impression of a growing business in generally optimistic mood as the free-range sector gained market share and yet maintained fair prices.

Widely reported in the country and confirmed at the meeting was that nearly all UK egg producers have prepared in good time for the now-imminent ban on conventional battery cages in the EU from 1 January. Doubtless some of the old cages are still in use now but those farmers have indicated that they will either de-populate or leave the business before the deadline.

Across Europe, where cages are permitted at all for egg production, colony (enriched or furnished) cages have been the alternative system of choice for most producers ahead of the ban. As the preferred cage-free option, the UK industry has taken a different path from that in most EU countries, as free-range has been taken up as the favoured alternative system to battery cages; in other countries, more producers have opted for indoor barn or aviary systems. According to the latest statistics, cage eggs accounted for 50 per cent of total UK production, free-range eggs accounted for 43 per cent and barn and organic eggs combined accounted for the remaining seven per cent.

At the BFREPA meeting, Sue Ellis of the department of agriculture (DEFRA) Animal Welfare group and Charles Bourns of the National Farmers Union described their efforts to prevent UK egg producers facing unfair competition from the EU, where some countries appear a long way from being able to comply fully with the battery cage ban. This will be reported more fully in a separate report on ThePoultrySite.

At the association's meeting, great concern was expressed by producers about suspicions that an egg packing company has been passing off cage eggs as free-range and that the resulting investigation had not been completed and reported. Expressing their views strongly, the producers see this as another cause of the erosion of free-range margins.

With more than 530 registrations, attendance at the event earlier this month recovered after severe weather stopped many from reaching the meeting last year, and the exhibition hall with its 64 stands was buzzing. However, this was from general talk and not business discussions, according to several exhibitors. They commented that no-one in the poultry sector is investing at present; the egg producers' narrow margins leave them nothing for investment and the broiler producers, who have had a better year, are reluctant to spend in the present economic climate.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item from the BFREPA meeting by clicking here.