Consultation on removing the 16-week derogation period in egg marketing standards legislation in England and Scotland

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Closes 5 Mar 2024

Purpose of this consultation

1.1. This consultation seeks views on a proposed legislative reform to the Egg Marketing Standards Regulation (No 589/2008). The proposed change will simplify the regulation on the labelling of free-range eggs, enabling free-range eggs to be marketed as such for the duration of any mandatory housing measures in England and Scotland.

1.2. These changes are being introduced due to the housing orders that were in force during Avian Influenza (AI) outbreaks but would apply to any situation when laying poultry were required to be housed under a housing order. The existing legislation requires eggs from free-range laying poultry that have been housed for longer than the 16 weeks derogation period to be marketed as barn eggs with associated changes to the labelling of egg packaging.

1.3. Recent outbreaks of AI have led to the introduction of housing measures across the whole of the UK in winter of 2021/22 and in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in winter of 2022/23. On both occasions the length of the housing order exceeded the 16-week derogation period, for six weeks in 2021/22 and seven weeks in 2022/23. This meant that eggs produced from free-range poultry under the housing order had to be labelled as barn eggs for the period that exceeded the 16-week derogation. These outbreaks of AI have created a clear case for updating the egg marketing standards.

1.4. The UK is around 90% self-sufficient in egg production, and 64% of that production is free-range. Through the proposed changes we want to continue to support the egg sector, should there ever be a period in future where they have to house their birds for their welfare and to protect wildlife. The proposed change will also ensure that free-range egg producers aren’t being penalised for adhering to government rules and supporting biodiversity.

1.5. Responsibility for egg marketing standards is devolved. However, for this issue Defra, and the Scottish Governments have agreed to undertake a Defra led shared consultation. For Northern Ireland the regulation comes under the Windsor Framework.

1.6. The move to free-range production has been pushed by consumer demand for higher animal welfare standards. The EU is the main supplier of imported eggs, and the markets are closely linked, particularly in Northern Ireland. The UK also exports eggs, with 94% of the exports going to the EU. For these reasons, on leaving the EU, the UK Government granted ‘equivalency’ status to imported EU eggs and the EU reciprocated. This decision was based on both parties applying very similar legislation.

1.7. The EU has now amended their legislation and removed the 16-week time limit, this will automatically apply to NI. If the England and Scotland regulations are not updated this could result in a situation where free-range laying poultry in NI, England and Scotland are under the same housing order but once the 16-week derogation has ended NI eggs would still be labelled as free-range, but England and Scotland eggs would have to be labelled as barn eggs. Maintaining parity with the EU would enable the English and Scottish egg sector to maintain a level trading position with both the EU and NI.

1.8. However, although all other free-range egg production criteria have to be met there may be concern that labelling eggs as free-range when birds have been housed inside for extended periods over and above the 16 deregation may result in a lack of perceived consumer transparency and the potential for consumers to be misled about the nature of their purchases.

1.9. Labelling transparency is an important consumer issue. It is therefore our priority to ensure, through this consultation, that we establish a comprehensive understanding of industry and consumers’ views of these proposals.

1.10. The proposals and consultation questions are set out below for your views.