The long-awaited EU review of the welfare of laying hens directive is to be published this autumn, two-and-a-half years later than scheduled. The news emerged at the recent Agra-Informa International Egg Forum held in Brussels. 

 
But Cornelius Rhein of the commission’s animal welfare unit made it clear that the Commission saw no need for extra time for producers to phase out conventional cages and was sticking to the 2012 date.


The document had been finalised and printed and would be presented to the presidency, Portugal, in the autumn, he said.


It was disappointing news for the UK and fellow member states, who have been pressing for an extension to 2017 from the current 2012 for the phasing out of conventional cages and the retention of the 12 birds/sq m for single tier alternative systems.


Mark Williams, forum chairman and secretary-general of EUWEP (egg packers and egg products), said that the EU industry must have more time to phase out conventional cages which could be coupled with a welfare-based points system.


“The industry needs to avoid the likely market disruption in the run-up to 2012 if it is to remain competitive,” he said. “There is no way that the majority of EU layers currently housed in conventional cages can be moved to either enriched cages or alternative systems by 2012.


“Equipment manufacturers supply both the EU and third country markets and simply do not have the capacity in place.”


With 2012 less than five years away, the bulk of member states have not even started on an enriched cage campaign, said NFU poultry chairman Charles Bourns. “The UK is further down that road than anyone with around half a million birds re-housed. So far as we can gather, Spain and Italy haven’t started yet. And where is the £350m to £500m coming from to move 8m birds from conventional cages into enriched?” he asked.


Maria del Mar Fernandez Poza, director of Spain’s egg organisation INPROVA, admitted that social trends and eating habits in her country were years behind northern Europe. Alternative systems made up just 3% of egg production. There was no demand and free-range flocks did not thrive in Spain’s blistering temperatures. Cages made up 97% of the retail market.


She called for a report on the welfare directive that took account of socio-economic factors and consumer views. Amendments were needed to reach a balance between improved hen welfare, consumer demand and the future of the EU egg industry in a world market operating under WTO rules.


She didn’t trust euro barometers and urged Brussels not to use them as scientific reports. “We are adults,” she said.


Andrew Joret, Deans Foods director, warned that the 2012 ban on conventional cages would lift UK productions costs by 4.7p/doz from the current 41.4p/doz as enriched cages took over.