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UK organic egg shortage feared

Date Published: 01/12/2005

A leading organic body is warning of a shortage of UK organic eggs when new legislation comes into force after Christmas.

Rules governing the rearing of pullets for organic egg laying will change on January 1, requiring rearers to raise birds to organic feed and veterinary standards from birth.

However, investigations by certification body Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) suggest that most rearers appear to be holding back from adopting the new systems because they are uncertain of demand.

It is feared that the demand has failed to materialise because producers have not got the message that they will no longer be able to introduce non-organic pullets into their units, and so have not put pressure on rearers to supply birds reared under the new rules.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “There seems to be a huge breakdown in communication here. Defra has made very clear that egg producers will not be allowed a derogation to use non-organic pullets after January 1. Their only option is to have birds reared under the new rules – what we are terming ‘part organic’ pullets.

“Because this message doesn’t seem to have got through, the rearers are not being made aware of the full level of demand there will be and are therefore not willing to commit to new systems. If this does not change we could be looking, by spring of next year, at having to de-certify egg producers because they cannot get the pullets they require.”

OF&G fears that if the supply dips seriously retailers may be forced to begin importing more organic eggs.

Mr Jacobs added: “If we lose this market abroad it will be extremely difficult to get it back – assuming producers survive this impending change of rules. This could become very serious very quickly for many organic egg producers.”

Further complicating the picture is the proposition that new regulations demanding fully organic pullets, raised to certified organic standards, could be introduced across the EU as soon as 2007, making rearers even less keen to adopt the 2006 requirements only to have to invest further a year down the line.

OF&G, which certifies around 70 per cent of the UK organic poultry, has written to Sustainable Food and Farming Minister, Lord Bach, outlining its concerns and is working hard to inform egg producers of the coming changes.

Under the current rules, pullets are converted once on the production units.

Mr Jacobs explained: “We’re in favour of anything that strengthens the organic credentials of UK food, but something seems to have gone wrong here. We’re not entirely happy with the new rules anyway, given that they are a halfway house. The pullets will still never be fully organic and so will not have any residual value in the organic market once their laying career is over. I think all we are going to see from this change is confusion and trouble for producers.”