Farmers in France have destroyed hundreds of thousands of eggs in a protest against falling market prices.
Industry associations there have criticised the EU Commission for its lack of regulation that has resulted in overproduction.
Egg prices have declined below the cost of production, according to the National Federation of Agricultural Producers (FNSEA), the main farmers’ syndicate in France.
FNSEA claims egg producers have been forced to increase production in order to compensate for the investments that French farmers made in response to a 2012 Commission directive on animal welfare.
The January 2012 EC directive introduced rules that laying hens should have housing with a separate nesting area and enough space for all hens to access feed at the same time, as well as scrapers to shorten claw length and perches for resting.
The cost of implementing the regulations was estimated at the equivalent of £18 per hen. In order to cover the costs of upgrading facilities, egg producers increased production by expanding their flocks.
Due to an industry-wide increase in production that occurred without any EU or national regulation, the mass increase has led to a plunge in egg prices.
In the North East, renowned local egg producer Richard Tulip said the EU changes have been welcomed by the industry.
Richard, of Lintz Hall Farm, County Durham, added: “Our free-range hens roam freely and the flock is monitored by the RSPCA. All our birds are kept to the exacting standards of the lion code and our customers know the quality of our product.”
Lintz Hall Farm has been run by the Tulip family for four generations and production has increased six-fold since 2007. The business now operates with 300,000 laying birds.
The Derwent Valley-based company, famed for its free-range products, has also recently invested in state-of-the-art production systems.
Richard said: “We have also introduced colony egg production systems which comply with the EU Commission legislation that came into force in January 2012.
“This will enable us to meet the expanding demands of our customers for a fresh, locally-produced egg from happy, healthy hens.”
In France, the farmers’ union claims the EU Commission is responsible for abolishing a refunds scheme that subsidised the export of certain goods to non-EU countries. FNSEA claim that prior to the refund scheme being abolished, egg exports received the refund, and subsequently, this has resulted in increasing export difficulties.
The EU Commission has responded, claiming the directive on battery cages had been a longstanding issue and implementation had been discussed within the industry dating as far back as 1999.
Roger Waite, EU Commission spokesman, said the problem was not directly related to the battery cage ban but that French farmers were producing more hens.
He added that supermarkets were also forcing down prices and the dispute was related to fair distribution of costs within the food industry.
He remained optimistic that the market would adjust to the issues of overproduction and subsequently, farmer prices would increase, adding that the Commission expected the French government to be taking measures to help rectify the situation.