The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive - Implications for the egg industry - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  Defra expects all UK cage egg production to be compliant with the Directive by the 1 January 2012 deadline. While this is encouraging, the UK's ability to argue for strict adherence to the Directive will be undermined if this country is not fully compliant. We therefore seek Defra's assurance that UK egg production is on course to be fully compliant by 1 January 2012. We expect Defra to confirm when the UK achieves full compliance with the Directive. We further recommend that Defra publish its assessment of the total capital cost to UK producers of implementing the Directive. (Paragraph 9)

2.  We conclude that the UK cage egg production industry will be at a competitive disadvantage after implementation of the Directive if non-compliant cage egg producers in other Member States are able to export shell eggs and egg products. (Paragraph 12)

3.  Certain Member States have failed to provide the data requested by the Commission. The Commission needs to know the likely level of compliance in advance of the 1 January 2012 deadline in order to gauge the scale of enforcement activity required. The Commission will also need an accurate assessment of the level of compliance across Member States at 1 January 2012 so that it can implement the necessary enforcement action. We recommend Defra press both the Commission and individual Member States to provide the necessary data that will enable the Directive's effectiveness to be assessed. (Paragraph 15)

4.  We considered whether the Commission has sufficient powers to require Member States to provide information relating to compliance with European Union legislation. We do not consider it appropriate to give the Commission the power to impose penalties on Member States. (Paragraph 16)

5.  As a general principle, the Commission should ensure that Member States fully understand their reporting and monitoring responsibilities in relation to existing or forthcoming European regulation. (Paragraph 17)

6.  We recommend that the Commission makes clear that Member States should be advising their egg producers that no new hens should be being placed into non-enriched cages now. (Paragraph 19)

7.  The Commission's forecasts show clearly that the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive will not be complied with across the entire European Union from 1 January 2012. The Commission has had the evidence to show this for some time. We are concerned by the Commission's evident complacency: it does not appear to recognise the potential damage that will be done to compliant egg producers. (Paragraph 27)

8.  The Commission has not developed a plan to manage the anticipated non-compliance. If such a plan were already developed and publicised it would have had the additional benefit of acting as a deterrent to non-compliance. (Paragraph 28)

9.  Defra must resist the granting of a derogation from the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive to any Member States as strongly as possible. (Paragraph 31)

10.  We understand the industry's wish to see non-compliant eggs differentiated by an additional code. However, we are persuaded by the argument put forward by the Government and the Commission that requiring producers to mark an egg as unlawful would be illogical and probably counter-productive. (Paragraph 34)

11.  We support the calls for an intra-community trade ban on the export of shell eggs and egg products from non-compliant egg producers. We recommend that the Government press the Commission to confirm that such a ban would be permissible under the European law. (Paragraph 44)

12.  We recommend that Defra press the Commission to initiate infraction proceedings against Member States whose caged egg producers are non-compliant once the Directive comes into force. (Paragraph 45)

13.  We recognise that the obstacles to establishing a trade ban that encompassed all products that contained egg derived ingredients produced in non-compliant cages may well be insurmountable. (Paragraph 46)

14.  We recommend that Defra investigate establishing a voluntary approach under which retailers and food manufactures would undertake stringent traceability tests to ensure that they are not responsible for bringing products containing non-compliant egg products into the UK. We further recommend that Defra publish a list of those retailers and food manufacturers that have signed up to the voluntary approach. (Paragraph 47)

15.  We recommend that the Government buying standards should be amended to make clear that after 1 January 2012 it will be mandatory that no products containing egg products from non-compliant eggs are purchased. (Paragraph 48)

16.  The Commission has a responsibility to ensure enforcement of the Directive. We therefore urge Defra to press the Commission to bolster the powers and resources of the Food and Veterinary Office. (Paragraph 52)

17.  We further recommend that Defra press the Commission and Member States to have robust inspection regimes in place, that swift action be taken if non-compliance is uncovered, and that Member State's fine producers for non-compliance at a level that will act as a deterrent. (Paragraph 53)

18.  We conclude that lists of non-compliant producers would only be of benefit if officers were available at ports of entry to check imported eggs against the list. Such an approach would be costly. Given the current poor state of the data available to the Commission we doubt any enforcement method relying on comprehensive accurate data will be effective. (Paragraph 55)

19.  We recommend that Defra confirm whether it is still exploring unilateral action and that the devolved administrations support that approach. We recommend that Defra investigate the potential for putting in place a UK ban on shell eggs and egg products from Member States with non-compliant production. (Paragraph 56)

20.  As we argued in our report on Common Agricultural Policy after 2013; it is in the interests of fairer trade in the long-term that the EU should argue more strongly for recognition of standards of production (for example animal welfare, use of water, greenhouse gas emissions) within international trade agreements. (Paragraph 57)

21.  The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive will be the first piece of EU legislation intended to improve animal welfare to be implemented. As such the Commission's ability to enforce this Directive will be a test of the European Union's resolve to improve standards of animal welfare. We have seen little evidence that the Commission appreciates the serious risks associated with implementation of this Directive. First, the Commission has been insufficiently robust in securing the data required to assess the current trajectory to compliance. Second, the Commission has also shown little enthusiasm for establishing tough enforcement measures in the face of certain non-compliance by several Member States. Third the Commission appears to have failed to grasp the very serious consequences for compliant egg producers if full implementation of the Directive is not vigorously pursued. We therefore recommend that Defra work with other concerned Member States to make the case for swift action by the Commission. (Paragraph 58)

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Prepared 2 September 2011