British shoppers face the threat of a national egg shortage because of rules imposed by Brussels.

Farmers are warning they will have to scale back production to try to avoid the huge cost of complying with EU waste laws.

And in a bitter twist, the Government has also been accused of helping to destroy the egg industry.

While other countries in Europe are offering state aid to their farmers, there is no such support here. Industry leaders say the country's egg production could drop by up to 30 per cent.

If that were to happen retailers may have to start importing eggs from abroad to avoid shortages.

But any such move would expose shoppers to harmful food poisoning bugs.

Tests last year uncovered the potentially deadly salmonella bacteria in one in every 30 boxes of imported eggs. Eggs from Spain posed the greatest risk.

Experts at the time urged shoppers to buy British eggs wherever possible as most of our laying hens are vaccinated against salmonella.

But the possible scaling back by farmers could make home-produced eggs harder to find.

Farmers rearing chicken for meat will also be affected by the rules. However, there is less likelihood of shortages because chicken can easily be imported.

Under Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) regulations all poultry farmers with more than 40,000 birds must pay a oneoff licence application fee of GBP 3,331 and then an annual GBP 2,229 inspection fee to the Environment Agency.

The National Farmers Union says British farmers pay far more than their EU counterparts. Danish farmers are charged just GBP 250 for the IPPC inspections because of state aid.

With so many producers already struggling to break even because of price pressure from supermarkets, the extra financial burden could push many out of business.

NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns said:"It's frightening how many farmers may cut back production to below the 40,000bird threshold when the regulations kick in, in order to avoid the charge." Free range eggs producers are unlikely to be hit as hard because they generally have fewer than 40,000 birds.

But John Widdowson, vice chairman of the Free Range Egg Producers Association, said: "There will still be some producers affected and it will add huge costs." The Environment Agency said: "Our charges reflect Government policy that we must recover all associated cost for environmental licences and permits."
January 31, 2007