Illegal battery eggs from Europe may still be in products on sale on shelves in this country, according to welfare campaigners and a West Country MP.
While the Government is promising to tighten up regulations and prevent loopholes, the organisation Four Paws is using the current British Egg Week to call for clear labelling of products for consumers.
In a response to a written question from Adrian Sanders, the Lib Dem MP for Torbay, Farming Minister David Heath admitted that food products containing illegally-produced battery eggs may still be on sale on shelves.
The campaigners are urging consumers to choose free-range eggs and to read carefully their food labels to ensure they are not buying products with hidden caged eggs.
Since January 1, conventional battery cages for laying hens have been banned in all EU member states. Only so-called "enriched cages" are allowed.
According to research conducted by Four Paws, farms in 14 member states were still using illegal battery cages at the beginning of the year and did not comply with the EU directive on minimum standards for the protection of laying hens.
On January 26, the European Commission began infringement proceedings against 13 non-complying member states, which are on-going against 10.
Questioned about what measures were being taken to prevent illegal battery eggs entering the country, Mr Heath said: "Non-compliant member states' action plans include the commitment that eggs from conventional cages can only go for processing in the member state of origin and cannot be exported."
But he admitted: "These egg products can then be used only in food products or industrial products manufactured within the member state of origin and only these food products can then be exported."
Angelique Davies, of Four Paws, said: "It's shocking that products containing illegal eggs may still be on sale here.
"Hens in these illegal cages suffer terribly and are confined in such tiny spaces that they often develop severe mental and physical health problems. In the 21st century it is totally unacceptable that eggs from these abused hens are on sale on British shelves in processed foods – and consumers aren't even able to tell from the label where the eggs have come from."
She added: "We commissioned a poll where 86 per cent of respondents were in favour of extending the compulsory labelling of shell egg packs to include egg ingredients in food products to indicate the production system used.
"We want British consumers to know where their eggs are coming from and buy with confidence. That's why we are calling on the Government for clearer labelling."
Ten member states – Italy, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Spain, France and the Netherlands – still use illegal battery cages.
Many illegal cage eggs are hidden in processed food like pasta, mayonnaise, sweets and egg liqueur.