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Winterbourne Bassett farmers shell-shocked
Eggfarmers John and Robert Stiles have been forced to give up their egg production business at Winterbourne Bassett by new EC regulations that came into effect on New Year’s Day.
Like many other egg farmers, they say, they have been forced out of production by the new EC regulations that require much bigger and costly cages for battery hens.
However, many British farmers, like the Stiles brothers, say they cannot afford the cost of converting to the new cages so have given up egg production and now buy in their eggs from a producer in Dorset who has installed new cages.
John Stiles, 66, has been keeping chickens since he was 11 and kept a few hens in the back garden of his parents’ pub, the White Hart at Stratton St Margaret, Swindon.
He said: “I kept a few chickens in the garden and I started selling the eggs to neighbours and it went on from there, so I have been producing and selling eggs for 55 years.
“We moved to Winterbourne Bassett in 1965 to set up the egg farm and, until we began to run it down last year, because the new regulations were coming in, we were producing 27-28,000 eggs a day.”
John and Robert Stiles also set up their own egg marketing business delivering to shops, restaurants and public houses. That business will continue, supplying the Dorset eggs.
“We simply can’t afford the new cages,” said John Stiles. “If we had gone down that road it would have put 20p a dozen on the cost of our eggs over the next five years.
“We would not have been able to get any grants towards the costs although I understand egg farmers in Scotland, Wales and Ireland are getting some form of grant.”
Mr Stiles said to replace their existing battery cages with the new ones would have cost between £600-£700,000.
Under the new rules egg producers have to provide bigger ‘colony’ cages that provide the birds with more space, a darkened nest area, perching space and a scratching area, with each bird having 750 square centimetres of space compared with 550 sq cm previously.
He said it was widely reported that continental egg producers were flouting the new regulations and still using the outlawed cages.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that secretly filmed footage from French poultry farms proved that many were flouting the new regulations, with many of the illegally produced eggs being turned into liquid or powdered egg used in the catering industry and by food manufacturers.
Countries including France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Poland have told the EC that their producers were not ready to implement the new regulations, which are not backed up by any fines, penalties or export ban for the illegal producers.
John Stiles commented: “Other continental countries are still keeping hens in the old-style cages and they are coming into Britain cheap and we cannot compete.”