8 December 2000

Cage rules might hit EU egg output

EU egg production could be set for a 20% decline, when new battery cage rules come in from 2003.

"Roughly speaking, as of 2003 each traditional cage will be occupied by one fewer hen," said Siegfried Hart, general manager of the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry at EuroTier 2000. "Where there were five birds to a cage, now there will be four."

With about 90bn eggs a year produced in the EU, this would mean a short-term drop in output of about 18bn eggs.

Dr Hart expressed concern for smaller producers, who often had no opportunity to expand hen housing due to space constraints. Someone with 20,000 hens would only be allowed to keep 16,000 under the new cage size rules, with a minimum 550cm sq (85.25in sq) floor space a bird. This would not be an economically viable unit size.

He also feared that, unless producers were compensated for the higher cost of production, egg production would simply shift to countries with lower welfare standards.

Dr Hart also questioned the basis of the new cage rules. "There are no research findings regarding welfare of hens in new cages compared with current practice," he said. The EU council was aware of this, as it had commissioned a report on the welfare implications by 2005, at the same time as it passed the new laws. "The new management system is first to be introduced, and only afterwards will it be assessed."

German producers would be hit hard, he said, since rules for new structured cages, which include perches and nesting areas, went beyond those in the EU directive.

But German agriculture minister, Karl-Heinz Funke, defended his governments approach to welfare. New legislation had been pushed through under last years German presidency in the face of considerable opposition from some countries.

Stricter cage rules were coming anyway for Germany, so by making it an EU requirement, scope for unfair competition had been eliminated, he told a EuroTier 2000 seminar. &#42