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Animal welfare: Commission urges Member States to implement ban on hen cages or risk facing legal action

The European Commission once again urged today the Member States to implement a ban on un-enriched cages for laying hens, which enters into force on 1st January 2012, and warned that it will adopt measures against those that will fail to comply with the relevant EU legislation.

"The political decision for the ban was taken in 1999. Twelve years have gone by and the situation in some Member States is reportedly unsatisfactory. The consequences on animal welfare and the risk of market distortions are real. These would undermine investments and compliance efforts already made as well as consumer trust and this is clearly unacceptable," Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said during his intervention at today's Agriculture Council, which discussed the issue. "The Commission," he added, "does not intend to postpone the deadline of the ban and it will not hesitate to start, infringement procedures in cases of non-compliance."

Commissioner Dalli also announced that experts from the Commission's inspection service, the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), will start visiting targeted Member States as of January 2012. Any decisions on infringement procedures will be based on the outcomes of these audits.


Efforts undertaken to speed up implementation

In recent years, the Commission has taken every opportunity to remind Member States of their responsibility to implement the legislation. Among other things, it asked Member States to submit specific action plans, containing sanctions in case of non-compliance, to enforce the ban within the deadline. Between 2008 and 2010, the FVO audited 20 Member States and examined the state of enforcement there.

In December 2010, Parliament adopted a resolution supporting the implementation of the ban without delay and calling on the Commission to take action to ensure compliance with the legislation.

In January of this year, the Commission organised a multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss possible options to ensure the ban's full implementation across the EU. In order to enable a proper assessment of the state of implementation, the Commission also asked the Member States to send data on the number of laying hens, categorised by farming system by 1 April 2011. The data revealed that in some Member States there will still be laying hens in un-enriched cages at the end of the year.

What is at stake

The legislation on the minimum standards for the protection of laying hens exists since 1999, when the EU Member States agreed on its provisions and on a timeframe to comply with the requirements.

According to the legislation un-enriched cages will have to be phased out by 1 January 2012. They should be replaced by other systems more capable to satisfy the biological and behavioral needs of the animals. Un-enriched cages provide the hens with less living space than enriched ones and lack structures, such as a nest or a perch, that contribute to a more humane keeping of the hens.

The need for the replacement of the unenriched cages is supported by a 2005 EFSA opinion on the welfare aspects of various systems of keeping laying hens.

Rural development funds for upgrading the rearing systems for laying hens have been available, but only some Member States (like Ireland, for example) have used them for better compliance with the legal requirements. Some Member States upgraded their rearing systems even before the Directive came into application. Sweden (1999), Luxembourg (2007), Austria (2009) and Germany (2010) have reported 100% conformity with the legal provisions.

The EU is self sufficient in shell eggs, according to a study carried out in 2010 by the European Parliament. Its imports concern mainly egg products and the quantity has never been significantly high.

The European citizen can get information on the type of farming directly from the eggs. A number, related to the farming system, is stamped directly on the egg shells. This is the only compulsory European labelling system existing so far referring to the type of farming. Thanks to this classification system the EU has witnessed an important increase in the consumption of free range eggs.

The enforcement of the laying hens Directive (1999/74/EC) falls under the sole responsibility of the Member States.

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Contacts :

Frédéric Vincent (+32 2 298 71 66)

Aikaterini Apostola (+32 2 298 76 24)

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