Ministers debate farm prices, battery cages
By FWi staff
EUROPEAN agriculture ministers meeting in Luxembourg have started to negotiate next seasons farm price package
The package for 1999/2000 largely amounts to a roll-over of existing measures except for some minor technical adjustments.
Many of the more thorny issues normally up for discussion have already been dealt with by the Agenda 2000 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Ministers are likely to formally reach agreement later today (Tuesday) on the package to fix support prices.
The two-day farm council meeting, chaired by German agriculture minister Karl-Heinz Funke, is expected to conclude this evening.
It is the last meeting of agriculture ministers before Germany hands over the European presidency to Finland next month.
Ministers are also due to discuss tighter EU-wide standards for organic farming and the phasing out of battery cages for chickens.
It is proposed to increase the minimum size of cages for laying hens and to phase out the most restrictive cages completely after 2017.
The measure is being opposed by France but UK agriculture minister Nick Brown has given it his support so long as the move is European-wide.
British egg producers say any restrictions on cages should be accompanied by a ban on imports of eggs from countries with lower welfare standards outside the EU.
The British Egg Industry Council estimates that converting caged systems to free range production would cost the industry £687 million.
The UK is responsible for 50% of Europes free range egg production and 70% of Europes barn egg production.