The 2005 review of the welfare of layers directive on whether to extend the cage ban to enriched cages is now 22 months late, leaving the industry insufficient time to adapt.

Mark Williams of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) said it would be the end of 2006 before the EU Commission made its report and it would be up to the German presidency to take action in 2007.

But there is little time to complete the task of meeting the 2012 deadline to move 300m birds in the EU from conventional to enriched cages. The capital costs of Euro5bn (£3.36bn) over 10 years are similar to the total cost of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the UK. The running costs will be up by over Euro1bn (£0.67bn).

The Commission has completed several reports and the industry disagrees with the conclusion of the Socio-economic report that the cost of changing from conventional cages to barn is +26% and to free range +45%, and to enriched cage “negligible”.

In March 2006 BEIC put forward a paper proposing a derogation for conventional cages beyond 2012 to 2017, with the support of other EU countries and organisations.

“It is not just a simple request for more time. To show our continuing support to improving welfare, and avoiding market disruption, we would put in place a welfare-based points system that rewards high welfare standards,” he said.