French farmers’ associations have accused the European Commission of responsibility for the “lack of regulation” which has led to an overproduction of eggs and a drop of prices below production costs.
Angry French farmers have destroyed hundreds of thousands of eggs to protest against falling prices, asking for measures at national and European level to redress the situation.
Daily Le Monde cited a farmer saying that he has sold 119,000 eggs for the price of €4,30 for the hundred, which according to him is €2,70 below production costs. The reason, he explained, is the overproduction of eggs on the French market over the last year.
According to the National Federation of Agricultural Producers (FNSEA), which is the main farmers’ syndicate in France, egg producers have been forced to increase production to compensate for the investments they made in response to a 2012 Commission directive on animal welfare.
According to the new directive, which became binding in January 2012, laying hens should have cages with a separate nesting area, enough space for all hens to access feed at the same time, perches for resting, and even scrapers to shorten claws. The cost of this upgrade, according to farmers, amounts to €20 per hen.
To cover these costs, many farmers expanded their flocks thus increasing their production. "There were too many new buildings that were fitted and we are left with an overproduction of 5% to 10%," said a poultry farmer in the Côtes d'Armor.
A reported improvement in living conditions of laying hens contributed to a decline of mortality of around 2%, also impacting on productivity.
In addition the Commission is blamed for abolishing refunds, a scheme that subsidised the export of certain goods to non-EU countries. Until refunds were abolished, egg exports received these refunds, and French farmers believe this now made eggs more difficult to export.
At the same time, the Commission has reportedly abolished import duties on eggs from Ukraine. Although the measure has not yet come into force, cheap Ukrainian eggs are already entering the EU market via Poland.
According to Jacques Bonati, a lawyer working for Confédération paysanne, a French farmers’ syndicate, the Commission has pushed through its new requirements without any kind of regulation at European level.
According to Bonati, quoted by Le Nouvel Observateur, the liberal policies of the Commission will give advantage to massive imports to Europe from countries such as Brazil, where environmental and animal welfare norms are less strict and where the cost of labour is lower.
According to the Belgian website 7 sur 7 finance, the situation in the country is very similar to France.
Asked to comment, Commission spokesperson Roger Waite said that although the new directive on battery cages had become effective in January last year, it had been in preparation since 1999 and farmers were aware of that.
Waite said that the problem was not linked to the battery cages, but rather to the fact that producers were producing more chickens. He added that the Commission remained optimistic that the market would react and that production would decrease in the coming months, enabling prices to pick up.
Regarding the abolition of export refunds, he said that these were reduced to zero at the end of last year because the market did not require them to function, and the export market was “quite well”.
But Waite added that supermarkets were forcing down prices and that the issue was about “fair distribution of the costs” in the food chain, adding that the Commission was confident that the French government was taking measures in this respect.