The EU’s confirmation in a report published last month that conventional cages are to go in 2012 was supposed to bring certainty and clarity to the European egg sector, but a Poultry World straw poll of the UK industry shows grave doubts continue.

When he unveiled his department’s report on the Laying Hens Directive earlier this year, health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said the 2012 deadline was being maintained because “there was no reason to postpone it.” His message to the egg industries of Europe was uncompromising: “Start phasing out cages as soon as possible so that there is full compliance by 2012.”

However, a brief, non-scientific Poultry World straw poll of the UK industry carried out in the weeks after its publication shows much doubt. Replies indicated that Mr Kyprianou’s aim would be difficult to achieve.

“It is not going to happen,” said Brian Handley, the UK agent of enriched cage manufacturer Valli.

He outlined some of the reasons why. “There are not enough trained cage and house erectors, enough acknowledged experts in building enriched cage units – an area pioneered by Valli and Big Dutchman.”

Lead times between ordering and delivery, currently six months, are likely to be measured in years. Mr Handley feared a spate of untried, untested models from would-be manufacturers keen to cash in on the situation.

“An immediate overnight switch is impossible, so why not phase out the conventional cages with the oldest going in 2012 and the rest over a number of years,” he suggested.

Phillip Dye, managing director of Big Dutchman’s UK distributor Newquip, found some comfort from the situation: “At least we’ve got a decision and that is better than no decision.”

Producers, he predicted, would take it in their stride, but there would be a lot fewer of them when the situation becomes clearer.

“Who stays and who goes will depend on inheritance, whether the next generation wants to take over, how much money they’ve got and it wouldn’t depend on size. Large and small businesses would be caught up in the change.”

But time is running out, as Doug Kirby, sales manager at Tom Barron ISA explained. “A leap into the unknown will start next year when the time comes for hatcheries to place orders for breeding stock and for their customers in 2010 and 2011, when they have to decide if they can continue as egg producers.”

More positive was egg producer Chris Kirkwood. More than half of his intensive egg flock at Withernsea, East Yorkshire, are already in what most people call “enriched cages” but he refers to as “enriched colonies”. The term “cages” is banned – it gives people the wrong idea, he said.

Mr Kirkwood added that by 2012, all his birds will be in enriched surroundings.