Plight of local egg producers raised in Scottish Parliament

MSP Joan McAlpine has raised fears about the future of egg production after the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy Fergus Ewing told her the sector could be ‘wiped out’ if a no-deal Brexit leads to a mass influx of cheap, poor quality produce into the UK market.

The South Scotland MSP asked questions in Holyrood after being approached for help by the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), as Dumfries and Galloway is home to some of the best quality producers including Nith Valley Eggs at Gatelawbridge, and Auchtralure Farm Eggs at Stranraer.

UK ministers propose to drop tariffs on eggs from abroad in the event of a “no deal”. Mr Ewing told the MSP that he had raised the BEIC concerns with UK ministers just last week but they were unable to give any reassurance about fears a no deal could lead to an influx of poor quality eggs produced to lower animal welfare standards.

Joan McAlpine MSP said:

“A no-deal Brexit scenario could be disastrous for Scottish consumers and for our high-quality egg industry. Rural areas like Dumfries and Galloway have risen to the challenge of producing high quality free-range eggs in recent years, and it would be disgraceful to put these businesses at risk by allowing poor quality ‘battery’ eggs back onto the market.

“If we leave the EU without a deal, we will revert to WTO rules. Under the World Trade Organisation’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules, animal welfare cannot be used as a barrier to trade, so we could go backwards.”

The British Egg Industry Council fear that in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, many of the EU regulations and quality controls which ensure the welfare of egg laying hens and the quality of the eggs sold at market, could be scrapped.

The Council, who represent the UK egg industry, say that though the EU banned conventional ‘battery’ cages in 2012, a no-deal Brexit could risk a lapse in welfare and food quality standards, and may see poor quality eggs from battery hens back on UK supermarket shelves, or used in other food products.

Responding to Ms McAlpine’s questions in the Scottish Parliament, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy Fergus Ewing said:

“Unfortunately our assessment is that egg production is another of our successful food and drink sectors that will be negatively impacted by a no deal Brexit, and this is particularly true if, as expected, the UK Government leaves the sector without the protection of tariffs or quantitative restrictions on egg products coming into the UK. That would leave Scottish producers at an unfair disadvantage with the potential for imported products of much lower quality and welfare standards flooding the market here.

“It beggars belief that the reckless approach by the UK Government to allow complete trade liberalisation on the egg production sector could wipe this out in one fell swoop. Not only will it leave our hard working egg producers unprotected and vulnerable to cheaper imports, but could also lead to consumers unwittingly eating egg and egg products produced to a lower welfare standard than we do thanks to being members of the EU.

“These issues were raised with DEFRA Ministers on Monday, but yet again they were completely unable to give us any reassurance whatsoever to alleviate these real and practical concerns. It was completely inadequate, and utter shambolic.”

Speaking after the exchange, Joan McAlpine MSP said:

“I am incredibly worried about the impacts which a no-deal scenario could have on Scottish egg producers, and these fears have been confirmed today by the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy. I will continue to work hard to stand up for the interests of producers across Dumfries and Galloway who could be facing serious losses as a result of an extreme Tory Brexit.”