Greece and Italy are facing the prospect of fines for keeping laying hens in barren cages, which were supposed to have been replaced with enriched systems at the start of last year.

The EU Commission has confirmed it is taking these two countries to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over their failure to correctly implement the welfare legislation.

“The political decision for the ban on ‘un-enriched’ cages was taken in 1999,” said a spokesman. “Greece and Italy had 12 years to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.”

In January last year, the commission sent a “letter of formal notice” asking Greece and Italy, together with 11 other EU member states, to comply.

“Of the 13 member states that received letters, only two remain non-compliant,” said the spokesman. “Full compliance is essential to avoid market distortions and unfair competition. Lack of enforcement puts businesses that invested in complying with the new measures at a disadvantage.

“It is absolutely right that the EU Commission takes the relevant action against those countries that still have not come up to speed with the directive.”
Duncan Priestner, NFU poultry board chairman

“Greece and Italy so far, despite repeated calls by the commission to address the situation, have failed to adequately comply with applicable EU law.”

NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner welcomed the move. “It is absolutely right that the EU Commission takes the relevant action against those countries that still have not come up to speed with the directive.

“Poultry farmers in this country have spent in excess of £400m to ensure that their systems meet these new welfare standards, so it is vital that there is a level playing field throughout Europe.”

The next stage will be for the ECJ to gather evidence from both the commission and the member states, a process that is likely to take many months.

Any penalties will be based on the perceived seriousness of the offence and the member state’s ability to pay.

Brussels insiders suggest that Italy may soon be in compliance anyway, while Greece has bigger financial and political issues to contend with.

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