Europe to outlaw battery cages
By Johann Tasker in Luxembourg
BATTERY cages for laying hens are to be banned in a move which British egg producers claim will cost them almost 690 million.
All battery cages will be outlawed from 2012 in under an agreement reached yesterday by European Union (EU) agriculture ministers meeting in Luxembourg.
Phasing out the cages will start as soon as 1 January 2003, when egg producers across Europe will be banned from introducing any more traditional-style coops.
At the same time, producers will have to increase the amount of floor space per bird in existing cages by almost a quarter from 450cm2 to 550cm2.
That effectively means farmers must reduce the number of birds in a normal cage from five to four incurring either extra housing costs or reduced egg output.
In addition, any new cages introduced after 1 January 2003 must give each bird 750cm2 of floor space and be “enriched” with perches and nest areas.
But those cages too will be outlawed by 1 January 2012 the date that the complete ban on all types of battery cages comes into force.
The move follows a European parliament vote earlier this year which called for the battery egg production system to be scrapped by 1 January 1999.
Although that vote was not binding, it marked a significant escalation of the European-wide campaign to improve conditions for factory-farmed animals.
European agriculture ministers arriving for todays meeting were lobbied by animal welfare campaigners, some of them from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).
The pressure group described the decision as the final hurdle in agreeing a new EU Directive on laying hens and a huge campaign victory.
“This monumental decision marks perhaps the greatest day so far for animal welfare in Europe”, said Philip Lymbery, CIWF campaigns director,
Karl-Heinz Funke, Germanys agriculture minister, who chaired the meeting, said the ban would be implemented less slowly than some campaigners would like.
“It is just a first step,” he told reporters at a press conference. “No-one would say this is an ideal outcome from a welfare point of view.”
But phasing out battery cages over 12 years would allow egg producers time to adapt to the new economic conditions a ban would bring, Herr Funke said.
The cost of the ban to egg producers has previously estimated at 687m, according to figures prepared for the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC).
Herr Funke said he believed even if egg prices rose as a result, “consumers in general will accept that quite happily” because of the welfare gains.
The BEIC said it considered a total ban on caged egg production “impractical” but would have welcomed other improvements to welfare standards for hens.
Other production system would not consumer demand for cheap, nutritious, high quality eggs, said Andrew Joret, BEIC animal welfare committee chairman.
“Inevitably this will considerably increase the price of free range eggs,” he said.
About 80% of all eggs purchased in the UK are currently intensively produced, with 15% from free range systems and 5% barn produced.
But the outlawing of cages is likely to hit producers much harder in other European countries where the proportion of battery cages is much higher.
The BEIC estimates that the UK alone is responsible for 50% of Europes free range egg production and 70% of Europes barn egg production.
A comprehensive examination of the alternatives to battery egg production will be conducted by the European Commission before the ban on cages is completed.
The findings of the study will be made public in a report to be published in 2005, but there is little doubt that the EU ban on battery cages will go ahead as planned.
The commission and the farm council are preparing to push for the ban to be extended outside the EU and will urge other countries to adopt similar measures.
An EU statement during the forthcoming Millenium Round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) will call for common welfare standards across the globe.