The UK’s National Farmers Union has expressed its disappointment that the government has not been able to adopt stronger measures to protect egg producers from illegal eggs (laid by caged hens) potentially entering the UK beginning in 2012.

Farming minister Jim Paice has announced that the UK food industry will have to reach a voluntary consensus that it will not use eggs produced by hens in conventional cages, although manufacturers will still be allowed to use the same eggs for their products.

NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns said: “We welcome the enforcement measures being taken by the government, but our members will certainly be bitterly disappointed that it has not been possible to take tougher action.

“We are concerned that, although the government has repeatedly pledged its support for the industry, it cannot prohibit the use of illegal egg products and food manufactured from such products. Although we are pleased to see the support of some UK retailers and food manufacturers on this, there are still a number of companies who have yet to make this commitment.

"Further to this, we would like to see retailers and food manufacturers showing their support for the whole of the British egg industry by offering a fair price for all legal eggs and egg products to recognise the investment that has been made in all production systems in readiness for January 1.

“The UK egg industry should not be disadvantaged for embracing new higher welfare systems, and the government’s announcement is not what UK egg producers needed after they have invested so heavily and met the requirements of the law.”

Some 13 European member states are not expected to be compliant with the cage ban come January 1, 2012.