My Lords, I declare my interests in the register and also declare that my youngest son is a poultry farmer in Lincolnshire. I pay tribute to all those involved in British agriculture and horticulture, who are doing their absolute utmost under challenging circumstances to keep the nation fed.
A recent article in the Grocer magazine stated that, since the onset of Covid-19, retail demand for shell eggs has increased significantly, with egg sale volumes up almost 20%. While UK supermarkets have largely stocked only UK-sourced shell eggs since the 1988 salmonella outbreak—an event which led to the creation of the British Lion accreditation scheme—it is reported that Lidl, the supermarket chain, has been importing cheap Dutch eggs, citing shortages of UK product. Such imported eggs are not produced to the same high food standards as UK eggs which bear the Lion mark. The industry does not recognise such shortages, stating simply that it has experienced some logistical problems—as have many foodstuff suppliers.
I understand from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association that it is extremely rare for imported eggs from any production system to be stocked in supermarkets. However, a considerable source of frustration to producers currently is that the discounters, Lidl and Aldi, drove down the price of free-range eggs by 18 pence a dozen at the end of last summer, leading to many producers receiving around 75 to 80 pence per dozen compared to £1 and more some two to three years ago. The result is that many producers have gone out of business and others simply have not stocked their sheds. Such behaviour does not show the discounters in a good light and it certainly does nothing to support British farming and food production.
With the Agriculture Bill due to arrive in your Lordships’ House shortly, I shall bring this matter to the Minister’s attention in much greater detail at Second Reading. In the meantime, I ask that his officials contact both discounters as a matter of urgency to express the producers’ concerns.