History of the UK egg industry
In the early years of the 20th century, egg production was largely a sideline to other farming operations and there were few specialist egg producers. This meant that prices were subject to sharp fluctuations and there was strong competition from overseas. UK egg producers wanted to differentiate their product from that of other countries and encourage the public to buy British.
1928: The National Mark Scheme
In 1928, the Government and the Farmers’ Union set up a voluntary scheme to try to provide a quality guarantee for a range of home-produced goods, including eggs. The ‘National Mark Scheme’ was the first organised attempt to provide the market with reliably-graded, high quality, home-produced eggs.
1939-1945: World War II
During the war, foodstuffs such as eggs were rationed to ensure everyone received their fair share, and consumers were given vouchers which they used to buy eggs. A new organisation, the National Egg Distributors’ Association Limited (NEDAL) was set up to supply eggs. As the war progressed, a shortage of animal feed meant that the number of hens declined, forcing egg rationing to remain in place until 1953.
1957-1971: British Egg Marketing Board
The British Egg Marketing Board was set up with the aim of bringing stability to the market so that egg producers could get the best possible returns and consumers could be provided with a regular supply of high quality, home-produced eggs at reasonable prices. The BEMB obtained its funds from three sources: egg sales, Government subsidy and income from taxes which egg producers had to pay.
Under the BEMB, ‘first quality’ eggs were required by law to be stamped to show their grade and with a number that could be used to locate the packing station from which the eggs originated. To this, the BEMB added its own trademark – a Lion. The ‘Little Lion’ became a well-known symbol, popular with consumers, and appeared regularly on advertising and promotional material throughout the BEMB’s lifetime. British egg producers with more than 50 hens had to be registered, and the BEMB was obliged to accept for sale all eggs offered to it.
The Board took the following steps to help promote British eggs:
– Operated a national price structure
– Disposed of surpluses by processing them into egg products (such as dried egg, used in food manufacture)
– Helped distribution by movement of regional surpluses
– Ensured national quality standards for packing stations
– Promoted the sale of British eggs through national advertising, sales promotion and public relations.
The advertising slogan “Go to Work on an Egg” was introduced and featured on TV ads with comedian Tony Hancock. The slogan developed into one of the most popular and memorable advertising campaigns of all time. Advertising and other BEMB activities saw egg consumption increase by about 14 per cent between 1957 and 1970.
In later years a problem arose as improved methods of production meant that yields (the number of eggs per bird) began to increase. Although the BEMB was obliged to buy all eggs offered to it, producers were allowed to sell their eggs elsewhere – and the Board became a ‘dumping ground’ for the eggs which producers could not sell elsewhere.
The Government removed the requirement to stamp eggs in 1968.
1971-1986: Eggs Authority
The BEMB was replaced by the Eggs Authority in 1971 and under this new direction, producers had to find their own markets. The Lion symbol was also dropped at this time. The Authority’s main objective was to support British egg producers by positioning eggs as an acceptable food in contemporary society. The Authority’s activities included advertising with slogans such as “Crack a Meal Today”, “Thank Goodness For Eggs”, “Go Smash an Egg” and “The Egg Lover”. At the same time, research was conducted and the issues of diet and health were raised, particularly that of cholesterol intake, and new processed egg products were developed for the catering and consumer markets.
Despite these promotional campaigns, however, egg consumption declined during the 1970s and 80s due to changing consumer lifestyles, including a decline in cooked breakfasts and home baking.
In 1973, the UK entered the European Economic Community and British eggs became subject to the EEC Egg Marketing Regulations governing quality, grade-sizing, labelling and packaging.
In 1985 the Eggs Authority was reviewed by the government. The review uncovered a lack of support from the egg industry itself, and the Authority was abolished in 1986, replaced by the British Egg Industry Council, a voluntary organisation.
1986–Present Day: British Egg Industry Council (BEIC)
The BEIC is funded by voluntary contributions from egg producers and packers and is made up of the major trade associations from the different subdivisions and geographical regions of the UK industry.
THE ROLE OF THE BRITISH EGG INDUSTRY COUNCIL
The BEIC is an inter-professional organisation of 11 trade associations in the UK, which cover all aspects of the egg industry – breeding, hatching, rearing, laying, packing, egg processing and marketing.
Set up in 1986, the principal function of the BEIC is to represent the interests of its Members (the UK egg industry) in discussions with Government, MPs, the European Commission, European Parliament, and other bodies. BEIC also set up and runs the British Egg Information Service (BEIS) to provide information and answer questions about eggs. The BEIS distributes leaflets and recipe books, nutrition and food safety information, recipes and specific materials for the general public, teachers, caterers, health professionals and students. BEIC also finances research and development. BEIC is recognised by Government and Parliament as the representative voice of the UK egg industry.
The 11 representative Trade Associations are:
– British Egg Association (BEA)
– British Egg Products Association (BEPA)
– British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA)
– National Egg Marketing Association Ltd (NEMAL)
– National Farmers’ Union (England and Wales) (NFU)
– National Farmers’ Union (Scotland) (NFUS)
– Northern Ireland Poultry Breeders and Hatcheries Association (NIPBHA)
– Pullet Hatcheries Association (PHA)
– Pullet Rearers’ Association (PRA)
– Scottish Egg Producers Retailers Association (SEPRA)
– Ulster Farmers Union (UFU)
The Council of the BEIC is made up of the 11 organisations listed above. The Chairman of each organisation attends the quarterly Council meeting, where policy is discussed.
BEIC is funded exclusively by a voluntary levy on a number of packers and producer/packers who between them represent more than 85% of egg output in the UK. These ‘Subscribers’ to the BEIC adhere to the ‘Lion’ Code of Practice, which sets higher standards of both hygiene and animal welfare than is currently required by UK or EU law. (Currently, more than 95% of free range and organic egg production is to ‘Lion’ standards, plus almost all barn production).
BEIC members and staff also hold key positions in/are involved in the following EU and global organisations;
– COPA/COGECA (the EU organisation for producers and cooperatives)
– EEPTA (the EU organisation for egg packers and traders)
– EEPA (the EU organisation for egg processors)
– EUWEP (the umbrella organisation for EEPTA and EEPA)
– The European Commission’s Advisory Group on Eggs and Poultrymeat
– International Egg Commission (the global body for egg producers, packers, traders, processors and allied industries)