12 EU States fail to comply with hen welfare standards

The latest figures from the European Commission show that nearly 50 million hens – one in seven – across 12 Member States are still being kept in illegal battery cages, nearly five months after the ban came in. After 13 years of preparation, farmers in these countries are still profiting from keeping hens crammed in small cages.

At the of end of January, the European Commission launched infringement procedures against 13 EU Member States, over their failure to implement EU legislation concerning the welfare of laying hens. Since January 1 2012, an EC Directive requires that all laying hens must be kept in “enriched cages” with extra space to nest, scratch and roost, or in alternative systems. According to the Directive, cages can be used only if they provide each hen with at least 750 cm² of cage area, a nest-box, litter, perches and clawshortening devices, allowing the hens to satisfy their biological and behavioral needs.

According to the  AFP, of the 13 Member States warned by Brussels only Romania appeared to have acted on the warning, while Bulgaria, Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal still need “to make extra efforts”. All these countries are at risk of receiving a final warning, known as “a reasoned opinion” before the summer, and then be taken to European Court of Justice.

The situation in the Czech Republic highlights that the country was heavily reliant on the imports of eggs from Poland, which was only minimally prepared for the ban on battery cages. Supplies from there to the Republic dried up almost overnight when the EU authorities made it clear they would come down hard on any national governments allowing trade between Member States in ‘illegal’ battery eggs. At the beginning of February, Bulgaria’s Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov vowed that the country will comply with EU hen welfare standards by April 2012. Responding to a question of the left-wing coalition for Bulgaria, he said that out of a total of 3 million hens, 500,000 were living in substandard conditions.

The British animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming stated: “It’s astounding that, after 13 years of preparation, farmers in 12 EU countries are still profiting from keeping hens crammed in these small cages, a full five months after the ban came into force. The governments of those countries still shamefully flouting the rules should never have allowed this to happen. The rest of the non-compliant states need to follow Romania’s lead and consign barren battery cages in the EU to history.”