MEPs berate ‘complacent’ EU Commission over cage ban

MEPs have demanded clear answers from the EU Commission over what it intends to do about the millions of illegally-produced eggs that will be in circulation in the EU from 1 January 2012.

In a debate in the European agriculture committee this week, MEPs accused the commission of “burying its head in the sand” over the issue and showing “utter complacency”.

The committee had heard from European egg packer organisation EUWEP that over 100m hens, or about 29% of the EU flock, will still be in conventional cages after 1 January 2012.

EUWEP secretary general Mark Williams said he was concerned that, if the 83m eggs a day that these birds would be laying were destroyed, that would create a massive egg shortage, driving up prices and opening the market to imports.

But if they were allowed to be traded freely within the EU, this would undermine those producers who had already complied with the new welfare legislation.

EUWEP therefore proposed a number of approaches including an intra-community trade ban on table eggs from conventional cages from 1 January 2012, and a separate means of identifying these eggs from enriched cage eggs. All egg marking must take place on the production unit, it added.

MEPs on the agriculture committee supported this approach. But responding for the EU Commission, animal welfare spokesman Andrea Gavinelli said it was up to each member state to ensure EU legislation was properly implemented and then report back to Brussels.

He then went on to talk about avian flu, the Doha round of world trade talks and a conference on animal welfare the EU Commission is holding in Brussels next year.

This prompted an angry response from the MEPs who felt Mr Gavinelli was deliberately avoiding their questions.

British MEP George Lyon said the commission had shown “utter complacency and a failure to address the issues raised”. Some farmers had spent millions of pounds on meeting the new welfare requirements and the commission’s response to protecting them from those who had not was “absolutely sweet xxxx all”.

Fellow British MEP Alyn Smith said he found the EU Commission’s intransigence “puzzling”. It did not dispute the claim that 83m eggs a day would soon be illegal, yet it was reluctant to suggest a solution. There was a clear need to identify illegal eggs from 1 January 2012 and prevent them from leaving the country of production, he said.

Dutch MEP, Esther de Lange, was even more outspoken. “It is ironic that we only get two minutes (each) to speak when we actually have something to say, whereas the EU Commission has blathered on for 15 minutes and has managed to say nothing at all.”

The credibility of EU legislators was at stake, she added, especially since member states had already had 10 years to prepare for the cage ban. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “Are you going to make a legal case in the courts that will drag on for five years, or will you ban eggs from intra-community trade that do not meet the legislation?

The MEPs agreed that the issue should put directly to EU health commissioner John Dalli at a meeting of the full European parliament.