Plans by EU commissioner John Dalli to restrict eggs produced in illegal cages for processing only will be of limited use in protecting compliant producers from unfair competition.

Addressing a West Country Layers Association conference in Devon, Pieter-Jan Luykx, area sales manager at Lohmann Tierzucht, Germany said that millions of laying hens would still be housed in conventional cages across the EU after the ban comes into force on 1 January, 2012.

While countries like the UK, Germany and Holland had worked hard to comply with the ban, other nations, like Spain, Poland and Italy had not been so proactive.

In Poland, for example, more than 60% of hens were still in old-style cages, but on-farm conversion could bring this down to 30% by January, Mr Luykx suggested. In Spain and Italy about 60% were likely to comply by the cut-off date, with discussions under way in Italy to retain old cages until the end of 2013.

Although the industry had expected the EU to take a firm stance on the January cut-off date, Commissioner Dalli’s recent announcement that eggs produced from conventionally caged hens should be allowed to be processed, instead of being destroyed, had undermined efforts made by those seeking to comply.

“The problem is, who is going to control this?” asked Mr Luykx. “The EU makes the regulation but the control is down to the member states. Even if these illegal eggs must be processed in the country of production, they will still end up on the market at some point. There is the possibility to control (shell) egg imports, but once they are processed that is very difficult to control.”

There were some signs of market improvement in Europe, he added, with chick placings declining and egg production per head easing. But self-sufficiency remained at 103% in 2011 and 2012.

“Before Commissioner Dalli’s announcement, I would have expected that we would start getting back to more balanced egg production from January next year, but now it’s very hard to say what’s going to happen. There are still too many eggs available and it will take longer to get back in balance.”

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