HC Deb 15 December 1998 vol 322 cc501-2W
Mr. Baker

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of(a) the number of intensive poultry units in England and (b) the average number of birds found within such units. [63375]

Mr. Rooker

The figures obtained from the June Census returns do not provide sufficient detail to determine the number of intensive poultry units in England. In England and Wales, there are 23,000 farms with laying hens but not all of these will be cage production and indeed the vast majority have fewer than 100 birds.

It may be of interest to look at the current breakdown of shell eggs packed by type of production system. This is:

  • cage eggs—82 per cent.
  • free range—14 per cent.
  • bam/other—4 per cent.

This is from an estimated UK annual production (in 1997) of 9,540 million eggs.

Mr. Baker

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take measures to prohibit the use of the term 'farm-fresh' eggs to designate those eggs which originate from a battery system. [63378]

Mr. Rooker

The terms 'farm fresh', 'naturally fresh' and 'country fresh' may be used to describe eggs produced under any system. The word 'fresh' is reserved for eggs of Grade A quality, which is the highest standard of freshness and cleanliness laid down in the Regulations. The words 'farm' and 'country' are not considered to be misleading, as nearly all eggs are produced on farms of one kind or another or in the country.

I am aware that consumer research, undertaken by welfare organisations, has indicated that some consumers are under the impression that this reflects the method of production. No legislative action is currently proposed and any changes would have to be discussed in Brussels. I am aware, however, that the egg industry and supermarkets themselves are addressing this consumer concern.

Mr. Baker

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with supermarkets concerning the descriptions applied to eggs offered for sale to the public. [63377]

Mr. Rooker


EC legislation governing the marketing of shell eggs specifies which exclusive terms can be used to indicate type of fanning (but exempts organic/biological farming). These optional descriptions are 'free range' eggs; 'semi-intensive' eggs; 'deep litter' eggs; 'perchery' eggs (barn eggs) and 'eggs from caged hens'. All these marketing terms are optional. Producers or marketing outlets can therefore use these terms if they wish to clarify the method of production for consumers, providing the minimum production criteria set out in the marketing legislation is met.

As far as other descriptions are concerned, there is an obligation that neither the pictures nor terms used on egg packs are misleading. Trading Standards officers of local authorities have the power to act if this is the case.