The creation of a new parliamentary group for pigs, eggs
and poultry has been welcomed by the National Farmers' Union (NFU).
But concerns have been raised in some quarters that the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) may have too great an influence over the new group. The BEIC is to act as the secretariat for the new body and independent voices in the egg industry are worried that it may in some way control access to the MPs who will make up the group.
"I am really concerned about the profile BEIC is gaining in Westminster," said independent producer and packer Tony Burgess of Birchgrove Eggs. Tony is worried that the BEIC and Lion is beginning to monopolise the egg market. He recently persuaded the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to issue guidance pointing out that all commercially produced eggs
in the United Kingdom were subject to the same stringent salmonella controls as those marked with the Lion. The guidance was directed at environmental health officers who had been recommending that people should buy only eggs
produced under the Lion code. Tony is worried that the BEIC's involvement with the parliamentary group may be another example of Lion domination.
"I must congratulate their lobbyist, who clearly is streets ahead of other farming lobbyists based there, who apparently didn’t even know about the formation of this new parliamentary committee," he said. "The question must be asked why not? Are the lobbyists and policy advisors from the likes of the NFU and BREPA, who are there to represent primary producers like myself, fit for purpose?
"BEIC does not represent primary producers; packers, yes. Please remember that Lion has only approximately 44 subscribing members. Compare that to the thousands of primary producing members in BREFPA and NFU, NFU Cymru and NFU Scotland," said Tony.
"I believe this appointment as secretariat to this cross party committee is probably now a fait accompli, but I urge everyone to request their voice be heard by giving evidence to this committee. Do you just have to apply to the secretariat for permission? Let us learn some lessons from this. We need to remind our lobbyists that eggs
and white meat are an important sector. By the way, just who is paying their wages?"
David Spackman of Laid in Britain offered a cautious welcome to the establishment of the parliamentary group. David also wants to be convinced that the BEIC will not dominate proceedings.
"As long as the committee realises that the BEIC does not speak for the whole of the industry and other sections of the industry can have a full part to play in the committee then I would be happy to go along with it," he said. "I am happy that the committee has been set up and delighted that MPs and others are taking an interest. That is something that is welcome."
Kelly Watson, the NFU's chief poultry advisor, said she supported the creation of the group. "We are delighted that this group has been set up and the NFU looks forward to being involved as much as possible."
The new All Party Group for Pigs, Eggs and Poultry is chaired by the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish. A press release issued by the British Egg Information Service said that the group would raise many of the complex issues facing the pig, egg and poultry sectors. A programme of regular meetings started in September, following the return of Parliament from its summer recess.
Neil Parish said, "Pork, poultry meat and eggs
are part of the staple diet and I am proud that we produce some of the finest meat and eggs, produced to the highest animal welfare standards in the world. But the industries are not without their challenges and this group will champion British produce in Parliament and ensure that the pig, egg and poultry sectors go from strength to strength."
Speaking on behalf of the British Egg Industry Council, Giles Clifton, head of public affairs, said, "The creation of an All Party Group on Pigs, Eggs and Poultry is just recognition of the importance of the sectors to British agriculture. We are very keen to make sure that the all party group is fully informed of all the issues facing the egg industry, from the continuing issue of EU non-compliance with the 2012 conventional cage ban, to beak treatment, feed and many of the other issues that are on the horizon."
The group currently has 23 members representing all the major political parties.