Thirty UK farms defying battery cage ban, Defra reveals
UP TO 300,000 hens are still being kept in battery cages in the UK, despite indications the industry would be fully compliant with the ban on this method of production from the start.
The revelation that 30 UK farms are still using battery cages is an embarrassment to both the Government and industry, which have made much of the threat to UK egg producers from the failure of 14 other member states to fully comply with the ban.
Defra played down the UK figures, which emerged at a meeting of the European Commission Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) on Thursday.
A spokesman it said Defra expected full compliance by February and warned that farmers who fail to comply by that date will face prosecution.
“The level of non-compliance in the UK is very low and latest figures show, as of January 12, that it represents just 1 per cent of the total UK flock,” the spokesman said.
“By February 1 we expect that these producers will have stopped using these battery cages or we will have issued legal notices and referred the producers to the local council who will consider prosecution.
“It is disappointing that a small minority of egg producers have not yet made the necessary changes when the rest of the industry has spent £400 million to improve welfare and meet these standards.”
But Compassion in World Farming said it was ‘shocked’ to learn that around 30 egg farmers in the UK are still using barren battery cages
“After continued assurances that the UK will fully comply with the ban on these inhumane cages, we are shocked and saddened to learn that this isn’t the case. The barren battery cage ban was agreed in 1999, there is no excuse for farmers not to have been compliant when it came into force at the beginning of this year,” said CIWF chief policy advisor, Peter Stevenson.
He said figures submitted to the European Commission last year showed the UK was one of 14 countries that was expected to be barren battery cage free by 1 January 2012. While the number of hens still in UK battery cages is lower than in countries like Spain or Italy, it is ‘by no means negligible’, he said.
“We urge the government to take steps to ensure that these illegal cages are replaced with compliant systems as a matter of urgency. In the meantime retailers should not sell these eggs as the sale of battery eggs is illegal,” he said.
The British Egg Industry Council said all British Lion egg producers have complied with the law, which still permits ‘enriched’ cages, which provide more space, as well as perches and nesting boxes.
NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns said producers who have invested in their businesses to comply with the regulation would feel ‘let down by the few who have not met the deadline’.
But he said: “Nearly all UK egg producers were fully compliant before this legislation came into force and these figures represent around one per cent of all laying hens in this country.
“Our producers are committed to higher welfare standards, which means around 31 million hens are housed in free range, barn and enriched cage systems.”
“We know that Defra is rigorously enforcing this regulation with a view to ensuring full compliance in the UK as soon as possible which we understand will be a matter of weeks rather than months.”
The EU ban on battery cages came into force into force on January 1. European Commission figures recently revealed that more than 46.7m hens are still in conventional battery cages across the union, representing 14 per cent of production.
The Commission has ‘named and shamed’ 14 member states it says faces legal action for failing to comply wit the ban. The UK was not among them.