Battery cages aren’t allowed here for animal welfare reasons but increasing numbers of cheap battery eggs are being imported into Europe from Ukraine. Not only does this mean unfair competition for European poultry farmers, but European consumers are also eating more battery eggs than they realize, says poultry economist Peter van Horne of Wageningen Economic Research.
Why are imports from Ukraine increasing?
‘The battery eggs and products made from battery eggs that are imported into the EU often come from the US and India. But Ukraine has become more important in recent years. Keeping chickens is really cheap for them because all the feed is grown there. Labour costs are also incredibly low and poultry farmers don’t have to comply with strict regulations. As a result, Ukrainian eggs are 25 percent cheaper. On top of that, the egg prices were higher in the Netherlands in the first half of this year because of the fipronil crisis. So buyers have been looking elsewhere.’
Dutch poultry farmers are fed up.
‘That is understandable. They have to stick to all kinds of rules on animal welfare, the environment and food safety, whereas other countries that don’t have these rules produce cheap battery eggs and are still allowed to export to Europe. The EU realizes this is a problem and it uses import tariffs to protect the European market. But the EU also wants to trade with Ukraine and they agreed a free trade deal a couple of years ago. One of the agreements was that Ukraine would be allowed to export 3000 tons of eggs without import tariffs. In exchange, we send cars and machinery to them. As an economist, I’m in favour of free trade, but in the case of chickens and eggs this does not create a level playing field.’
Can consumers do anything?
‘Ukrainian eggs are imported as egg products that are processed in sauces, pasta, bread and cakes, for instance. Consumers don’t have a good overview of that, and you can’t expect them to read every product label to see whether it contains free-range eggs. Retailers need to make arrangements but it’s tricky for supermarkets too with thousands of different products.’