Lessons to be Learned on Welfare Regs Enforcement

NFU Scotland believes that both the Commission and the UK Government must take a stronger stance on enforcement of new welfare regulations if such legislation is to be taken seriously in future.

Even at this late stage, the definition of ‘tough action’ by the Commission appears to be sending letters and preparing teams to go out for inspection after the deadline has passed; strategies that have been on the cards for several years that do nothing to compensate those who have paid the price to comply on time. NFU Scotland believes these measures are simply too little too late.

A European law on laying hen welfare banning the use of conventional battery cages will come into force on 31 December 2011. While UK producers converted their cage systems ahead of the deadline at a cost of £400 million - the equivalent of £25 per hen - other Member States have failed to bring their poultry farmers into line ahead of this longstanding deadline.  Despite having 12 years to prepare, the Commission estimates that as many as 50 million hens in 13 member States will be kept in illegal cages.

With as many as 50 million illegally-produced eggs a day circulating in Europe come the New Year, NFU Scotland has said it is bitterly disappointed that UK officials have been unable to unilaterally protect UK egg producers from imports of illegally produced eggs or egg products. NFUS also believes that action must be taken now to avoid the same mistakes being replicated in one years’ time with incoming EU pig stalls and tethers legislation.

NFUS has consistently called on the European Commission and the UK Government to ensure illegal eggs do not enter the UK in either shell or processed form.  Failure to respond in time to industry pleas for illegal eggs to be marked means that the only enforcement option remaining is to use ultra violet analysis, conducted through the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to identify illegal shell eggs.

However, due to legal loopholes, if illegal eggs are discovered they will not be destroyed or sent back but would just be downgraded from Class A to Class B and allowed to continue their journey throughout the UK, to be processed into egg products. 

Vice President of NFU Scotland, John Picken, said: 

“We are days away from Scottish producers finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage as a result of complying with standards set by Europe.  And once again the deeply disappointing message to industry is that Commission deadlines, and threats of infringement proceedings, are largely ineffectual.

“The debacle over this Welfare of Laying Hens Directive is yet another example of good intentions being poorly executed. Industry has maintained for years now that the Commission was not strong enough on its stance on the implementation of this deadline, but only in the dying weeks did the Commission try to cobble together an agreement that would have minimised the impact of non-compliance. 

“All the while those Scottish farmers who have complied in good faith ahead of the deadline face a competitive disadvantage, having borne the significant cost of moving to an enriched cage, barn or free range system.

“It is clear at this point that imports can not be shut down, but NFU Scotland is continuing to work with the Government to ensure retailers, food manufacturers, food service companies and processors uphold their commitment to conducting stringent traceability tests to ensure that they are not buying imported eggs from banned conventional cages.

“Many large retailers have already publicly committed to not selling eggs from conventional cages or using them in their own brand products, and we welcome that promise from them.

“There is already a lot of support for UK produced eggs and egg products, we are currently 82 percent self-sufficient, but it is important that retailers and food manufacturers recognise the significant financial investment forced upon producers and support the industry by paying a realistic price for eggs.

“Looking ahead then, it is vital that the Commission don’t simply repeat their mistakes from this welfare legislation with the next – the EU ban on pig stalls and tethers – due to come into force at the end of December 2012.

“In an October meeting with the Head of the Commission’s Animal Welfare Unit, Mr Andrea Gavinelli, NFU Scotland was assured that the Commission had made a commitment to learn from the issues that have been thrown up by this flawed transition out of conventional cages.  We have requested a further meeting early in the New Year to ensure that those mistakes are rectified and that promises for improved implementation of regulations are delivered.” 

Notes to editors

  • Estimates of the number of hens there will be in illegal cages on New Year’s Day vary widely, from a conservative estimation of 50 million hens all the way up to 80 million hens. These figures mean that as many as two billion illegal eggs could be produced every month in Europe.
  • Ultra violet analysis can be used to indicate telltale signs of eggs produced in conventional cages.
  • Suspect egg shipments will be held pending confirmation of production systems by the Member State of Origin. Eggs from illegal systems will not be allowed to be sold at retail but will go to processors, if any are willing to buy them.


Contact Wendy Fleming on 0131 472 4020 

Date Published:

News Article No.: 199/11

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