The European Union Directive 1999/74/EC on the Welfare of Laying Hens will ban the use of conventional cages (commonly referred to as 'battery cages') for laying hens and marketing of eggs from hens housed in such cages. The Directive, which is due to come into force on 1 January 2012, is the first piece of European legislation to phase out a method of production due to animal welfare concerns.
Around 31 million eggs are eaten in the UK per day, with around 80% of shell eggs and egg products (including liquid, powdered and frozen whole or part eggs) produced domestically. When the Directive comes into force the UK egg production industry expects to have spent about £400 million to be fully compliant with the legislation. In contrast, figures from the European Commission indicate that around one third of EU production will not comply with the Directive. The UK's egg production industry is concerned that as a result illegal, non-compliant eggs will be allowed to continue to be sold, putting compliant producers throughout Europe at a competitive disadvantage.
We found that several Member States have failed to provide the European Commission with the necessary data to enable an accurate assessment of the level of compliance when the Directive comes into force. We concluded that the Commission had not done enough to pursue this information and that the Commission had been complacent about the scale of the problem.
The Commission is only starting to consider its enforcement options at this late stage. We strongly resist Member States with non-compliant producers being given a derogation from the legislation. We support the implementation of an intra-community trade ban on the export of shell eggs and egg products from non-compliant egg producers. We concluded that the industry's wish to see non-compliant eggs differentiated by an additional marking would not work. We recommend that the Government press for robust inspection regimes across Member States and that swift action be taken if non-compliance is uncovered.