From the Editor: November 2011

Kristy Nudds
October 27, 2011
By

Much to no one’s surprise, the ban on the use of cages to house laying hens in the European Union (EU) will not be fully met by the mandated date of Jan. 1, 2012, as set out in the EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive (1999/74/EC). 

This directive, outlined in 1999, allowed a considerable amount of time for egg producers in EU countries to phase out the use of so-called battery cages in favour of a more welfare-friendly form, the enriched cage. Germany has taken the directive one step further by only allowing colony-type cages after 2012.

Despite the generous timeline and reaffirmation by the European Commission that the deadline date was not to be extended, as many farmers had hoped, it is estimated that nearly one-third of EU hens will still be reared in non-compliant housing by the Jan. 1, 2012, deadline. So what went wrong?

The problem of non-compliance is multi-faceted, according to Patrick Cloudemans of Vencomatic, who spoke about the European road to housing layers in aviaries at the recent Poultry Service Industry Workshop (PSIW), held in Banff, Alta. Non-compliant farms are primarily located in the southern and eastern EU states (in particular, Spain, Italy and Poland). Much of the problem involves differences in culture; some  EU countries place a higher value on welfare than others. Cloudemans says that consumers in the northwest EU are more conscience-driven, whereas consumers in the southern and eastern countries are more influenced by price.

Price differentiation also exists for eggs produced in more welfare-friendly systems in the northwest, as consumers have shown they are willing to pay. These measures do not exist in other countries, so there is no incentive for producers to invest in new systems. Also, some of the countries that have few compliant producers have been greatly affected by the economic downturn, and banks are less willing to finance large investments.

Compliant countries such as the U.K. are alarmed by the volume of non-compliant eggs and have posed some valid questions. Most important of these: how, and will, compliance be monitored? With more than 400 million pounds invested in new rearing systems, U.K. poultry producers fear that eggs imported into the U.K. will undermine and distort the market. 

At an EU parliamentary meeting in Brussels in early October, a Reuters report said the EU health and consumer commissioner John Dalli indicated that countries missing the ban will face legal action. However, just what this “legal action” will involve is yet to be outlined, and compliant countries want the Commission to draft effective, strong measures to curb the potential for trade in illegal eggs. In an article from FoodNavigator.com, Dalli is quoted as saying that the European Commission would allocate “limited resources” of its inspection services to “make the issue a priority.” He adds that a “political” solution must be found, and that he is pushing to contain eggs not produced according to the directive within the territory where they are produced, and restrict their use to processing. However, he does not know if this is allowable under EU rules. 

What, then, is “allowable”? According to what is laid out in the directive, member states are responsible for compliance. But nowhere do the words “penalty,” “punishment” or “fine” appear. Where is the incentive for member states to comply, if their producers still have a market and no penalty for non-compliance is clearly outlined?

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