As of Jan. 1, half the EU member states were non-compliant with the laying hens directive that was established in 1999, leading to unfair competition in the egg market.
By: Simone Lai
Egg farmers in compliant member states are hundreds of thousands of euros behind the farmers across the 13 other member states that are ignoring the EU directive.
By the Jan. 1 deadline, the directive was supposed to imply better animal welfare and a closer single market.
“The system we have today will punish those who fulfill the rules and we cannot accept that. And for an example [as] the agriculture committee, we have condemned that the directive has not been implemented,” says Marit Paulsen, a Swedish Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe MEP, and vice-president of the Intergroup for Animal welfare.
Regardless of the unfair competition, Danish egg farmer, Lars Lunding, says, “You have to follow the rules, I think. And as animal welfare and so on, in Denmark we believe in the rules and we are going to follow them. If it is better for the birds and the laying hens then we have to switch over.”
It cost Lunding between five to seven million kroner (approximately 670,000 to 930,000 euro) to upgrade the cages. There was no EU funding so he and his colleagues had to finance the projects through private bank loans.
Lunding has been producing eggs for the past 20 years and is now a prominent member in the egg industry. He has served on several committee boards, such as the Danish Egg Board.
When the new directive was established in 1999, the goal was to phase out old battery cages that are the typical wire cage. New rules outlined standards for “enriched” cages which were to include a separate nesting area, enough space for all hens to access feed at the same time, and perches for resting, and allow for 750 sq cm per hen.
But when 13 member states appear to be ignoring the directive, enforcement is left to NGOs to take the lead. Andreas Erler, political officer for the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, said that it has worked with affiliated groups on the national level to see that these standards are being followed.
For example, the Eurogroup has worked with Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV), an animal activist group in Italy, to close down an egg production farm defying the law.
“It’s really up to the member states to do something and the member organizations in the different member states to put pressure on their governments,” says Erler, “[animal welfare] is certainly not a priority on their national agenda otherwise it would be further than they are.”
The negligent member states that received their first warning of infringement late January are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Romania. In 2003, Austria, Belgium, Greece, and Italy were referred to the European Court of Justice because they did not implement the directive in national law.
Egg-conomics of the situation
Peter van Horne, a farm economist with a specialization and focus on poultry and animal welfare, says, “There is a larger difference in production costs if you have an advantage of ten per cent. It’s much cheaper in the old system.”
Van Horne has researched for the Dutch parliament because it was considering a complete ban on cages. But the reason why some of the countries may not seem as concerned with meeting the standards of this directive, and other animal welfare issues, is that the standard of human welfare is lower than countries like Denmark.
“The higher the living standard is, the more attention there will be for animal welfare,” says van Horne, “When you have a good income… [and] everything is taken care of then you’ll start to be more concerned about animal welfare, and that’s the situation in northwest Europe.”
New strategy for a fair market
Paulsen believes that a lot of information stops too high at the national level and never reaches the everyday farmer. That may be the case in some countries but Lunding, chairman of the Danish Egg Board, says that the board in Denmark manages to disseminate information to its 170 egg producers without much difficulty.
However, Paulsen also suggests that there should be “milestones” that member states must meet every couple years. The problem in this particular case is that nations were given 12 years to phase out the old cages but in-between that time, the Commission did not evaluate the progress.
She says, “[milestones will] give more power and tools to the Commission to check-up the implementation of the laws. And I cannot see what [else] you can do – we have no soldiers and no policemen on the European level, so it is depending on the member states and how the government of the different member states handle the common laws.”
But further action is limited
“The Intergroup (for animal welfare) cannot do anything more than build opinions. And that’s the reason why we have the intergroup – to give the parliamentarians the knowledge and update[s]… and [for] the voters to [get] information to make their own decisions,” said Paulsen.
The Commission should receive a response from member states by the end of March. A spokesperson for the Commission said, “There’ll be another step in the procedure if the Commission still thinks that they have not fulfilled their legal obligations.”
According to Erler, it is not likely that the Commission will receive a response.
“The situation in many member states is [such] that it will be difficult for them to comply within the next month or so with the legislation.”
Regardless of what appears to be a lack of enforcement and interest from the Commission, Lunding will continue to farm the eggs with care and abide by the law.
“It’s difficult to get a relationship to them all [the birds]. But I have a relationship. Everyday [I go] in the house to check if they’re okay,” says Lunding.
“As you can hear, there is a sweet music in the house. They are singing to us.”
A look at Lars Lunding’s enriched cages