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MEPs unleash cage egg timebomb on Europe

The European Parliament has passed an opinion vote to ban Caged egg production by 2009. This would give the European egg industry 10 years to change 93% of its production infrastructure.

Conversion, assuming it were possible in the time allowed, has been put at 687.5m [pounds sterling] for the United Kingdom alone -- the bill will appear in the asking price of free range eggs.

While the vote itself does not have any legislative weight, it will enable the Parliament to turn down proposals from the Council of Ministers if the Parliament's opinion has not been taken into account in any subsequent policy making when directives are published.

The Council of Ministers can only reject Parliament's opinion with a unanimous vote -- something so unlikely that it could be considered a freak occurrence.

The UK already 'accounts for half Europe's free range output and 70% of barn egg production, an indoor halfway house between cage and free range systems.

The British Egg Industry Council welcomes welfare improvements, but considers a total ban on caged production as "impractical" on the grounds no other system could meet UK consumer demand for eggs.

The Parliament's discussion of hen welfare proposals concerning laying flocks was peppered with amendments.

One proposed that reports on the two yearly compliance inspections should be published -- as has been suggested for the findings of the Food Standards Agency.

The number of states which would enforce a proposal for spot checks by vets to inspect laying flocks is unlikely to be more than a conscientious minority.

There is already a dearth of inspection in other sectors of the European food industry without adding to the check list.


Chairman of the British Egg Industry Council's welfare committee Andrew Joret said of the MEPs' vote: "It will make a difference. It's a step in forming a new directive. But because of the likely opposition in southern states of the EU, it is unlikely to appear in this form."

The European Parliament's previous proposal to increase cage sizes for intensive systems would give dominant birds enough space to bully weaker ones -- particularly given the proposed added height,

"It's an absolute disaster," said Joret, "the worst of all possible worlds and not well founded in science." Research carried out at Ploufragon in Brittany is highly critical of the welfare value of the European Parliament's existing proposals.


Free range faces blocks

For UK egg producers to maintain output at current levels using free range systems would require an area the size of Dorset, warns NFU egg specialist Paul Cooper.

"Planning permission for free range units usually takes about eight months and has dragged on for two years in some cases," he added. Opposition to new free range-units often appears to be in inverse proportion to the demands for welfare eggs.

The real concern -- and one voiced by agriculture minister Nick Brown -- is that UK producers could find themselves adhering to rules flouted by competitors on the continent. The result would be heavy imports at the expense of yet another UK industry.


Warm-up act

US vice president Al Gore warned delegates at the Davos conference that US negotiators will be seeking to eliminate export subsidies on food and farm products as well as reducing import barriers in the so called millennium round of the WTO talks.

EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler has already made his commitment to funding EU farmers clear (The Grocer, Jan 30 p33), so both trading blocs appear to be preparing for a set piece confrontation of trading rhetoric.

On both sides of the Atlantic, internal subsidies will be defended to the death, since these now replace former handouts for exports.


Tin problems `a few rogue cans' -- Anzer

The Italian tomato processors' trade body ANICAV has met UK retailers to try and resolve the problems with tin levels in tomato products. No firm decisions were taken, but another meeting has been called for March 10.

"It's very positive," said Walter Anzer, head of the British Importers' Association canned goods division. A working group will report back in the next few weeks.

Anzer is confident he will have the preliminary findings in advance of the March 10 meeting. Looking at the hundreds of test results, Anzer believes the industry is dealing with: "a few rogue cans" He shares the Italians' confidence there will be a solution soon.

Time is running out for any decisions to be implemented before this season's tomato pack starts.

Anicav has set a March 15 target date for making its recommendations on can specifications for this year's pack. The Italian view is that whatever is decided would only be a temporary measure and would not become a permanent policy in future years.

Meanwhile Tesco has withdrawn its stocks of 410g long cut spaghetti in tomato sauce, following the discovery of unacceptable tin levels.


Permitted tin levels around Europe vary widely. From 300 ppm a few years ago, Switzerland has moved to 150 ppm, alongside Italy, Finland and Benelux. The UK has taken the middle ground at 200 pm, while Germany and Greece set the limit at 250 ppm. The US does not have a tin limit.

Effects on subjects vary: researchers have consumed samples containing up to 700 ppm with no symptoms. In some people, however, tin is thought to have provoked nausea and vomiting.


`The market's on a bull run at the moment'

Weather hitting Spanish harvest

Packers and importers will be asking 30-35p more for a half litre bottle of olive oil (both branded and own label) by the end of this month -- and further rises can be expected in the summer months.

Prospects for a forecast Spanish olive oil crop of 800,000 tonnes are evaporating as a result of cold and frosty weather.

Low rainfall in Andalucia has led to concern both for the current crop and possible damage to flowering for next year's harvest too.

The market has been firming steadily through January. The Greek and Italian harvests are complete, but the Spanish one is essential to the region, since as much as half of it is exported for bottling elsewhere. It usually runs into March.

Unusually, there is an unexpected shortage of low grade oil to refine for pure olive oil. The quality of the Spanish crop is good, with a lower proportion of indifferent oil.

This has led to the unimaginable scenario of premium grade extra virgin olive oil being pushed into refining plants to meet the needs of blenders and bottlers.

This means prices for products such as light and mild blends, which depend on refined oils for a base, will be more expensive than the better grades of extra virgin.

There will be a distinct incentive for new users to trade up to extra virgin from the relatively bland blends.


Bulk olive oil prices around the Mediterranean have risen nearly 30% since traders returned from their long Christmas break. "The market's on a bull run at the moment," said one importer. "And unless some rain falls in Spain before the end of March, next year's crop will be another poor one, too." Frost is already damaging the current crop, while rain is needed to ensure that when the trees flower in April, enough of the blossom will stay to form olives. The quality is excellent, but the pre-Christmas estimates from Spain may yet fall as much as 25% once the harvest has been pressed.


EU cash cut out of bottles

Packers in the Mediterranean were working overtime in September and October to ensure-they could qualify for the EU's 83p a litre bottling susbsidy, which was abolished in November. This meant stocks were high over the Christmas period.

And growers also lost a 73 [pounds sterling]/tonne handout from. Brussels for olive oil. The current market is likely to more than compensate for the loss of subsidy, but will also help to firm prices in the future.
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Geographic Code:4EU
Date:Feb 6, 1999
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