Free-range perching challenge dropped by EU

The EU Commission has closed its pilot case against DEFRA’s interpretation of perching, it is understood.

Free-range farmers in England and Wales who use a slatted flat-bed system do not need to provide aerial perches under DEFRA’s interpretation of EU law. It has always argued that there is no specific definition of a perch in the Laying Hen Directive.

Brussels has challenged this view several times, most recently in 2010.

Earlier this year the commission, following inspections in November 2012, issued a pre-infraction notice to DEFRA, requesting more information and raising the prospect of legal action to force a change in the rules.

But Robert Gooch, policy director at the British Free Range Egg Producers, said the chances of this happening were now slim.

“We have been informed that the Commission has closed the pilot case against us, thus formal infraction proceedings will not ensue,” he said.

“Apparently DEFRA has been told the issue may be referred to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but I am pretty relaxed about that.”

He added EFSA can only advise on welfare if it compromises human health, making it unlikely to raise any issues over perching.

Mr Gooch, along with other representatives from the egg industry, provided evidence to the commission, asserting that aerial perches would increase keel bone breakages. Producers have also raised concerns about the cost of retrospective installation.

It is understood the government is more cautious about the decision, with one source pointing out that the case could be re-opened at any time. A DEFRA spokesperson said it would continue to defend its position that a raised, slatted floor counts as a perch.

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