Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee to Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  At its meeting on 27 January 1999 the Sub-Committee considered your memoranda dated 30 April and15 December 1998 relating to the proposed Council Directive on the protection of the welfare of laying hens.

  The Commission communication which accompanied the proposal of 19 March 1998 sets out how the new regulations might affect the ability of EU egg producers to compete with imported eggs (pp 16-17). The Sub-Committee would be interested to find out what proportion of the eggs consumed in the EU are currently imported, and what proportion might be imported in 2009 if the proposals were adopted.

  Additionally, in your first memorandum you say that the question of third country imports and the need to seek a global consensus on animal welfare "are already being discussed in the Community" (paragraph 13). The Sub-Committee would be grateful for an update on the progress that has been made.

  The scrutiny reserve is maintained pending your reply.

1 February 1999

Letter from Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 1 February in which you sought further information in relation to this proposal. I am writing now to provide that information.


  In both 1995 and 1996, imports accounted for less than 0.5 per cent of eggs consumed (ie either as shell eggs or used in egg processing for food and industrial use) within the EU. Trade data for 1997 shows that import volumes were higher than in 1996 although the proportion in relation to total consumption is unlikely to have changed significantly. Complete data for 1997 and 1998 is not yet available.

  I am sure you will not be surprised when I say that it is difficult to predict the position in 2009 with any confidence. Clearly, while there is a demand for assurances that high welfare standards have been applied, some consumers will continue to choose to buy eggs on the basis of price rather than welfare standards. This is particularly true in the case of the egg products sector where trade is highly competitive. Currently, about 17 per cent of UK production goes to egg processors and any loss of this market share will, because of the interdependency of the two sectors, result in an increase in the price of shell egg.

  Overall, the extent to which future price sensitive demand is met by imports will depend on the pricing relative to home production. This, in turn, is likely to depend upon a number of factors including:

    —  the exact nature of the EU welfare requirements eventually adopted;

    —  the outcome of the current negotiations on CAP reform, particularly as regards feed costs;

    —  the influence of tariff reductions agreed in the GATT Uruguay Round and possible further increases in import access from the next round of WTO negotiations; and

    —  the strength of EU currencies compared to that of competitors.


  You also asked for a progress report on the EU's consideration of the question of Third Country imports and the need to widen the global consensus on farm animal welfare. As indicated in my letter to Jimmy Hood on 18 November 1998 (copied to you—a further copy is enclosed for your information), this is something we took care to flag up during our Presidency of the EU. In particular, we were successful in achieving adoption of a general Directive on farm animal welfare (Council Directive 98/58/EC) which includes a requirement for the Commission to produce a report specifically on these issues by June this year (a copy of the relevant part of that Directive and the associated statements in the Council minutes is attached for ease of reference). We also, during our Presidency, initiated discussions on the economic implications of the Commission's proposals for laying hens.

  I trust this information is helpful.

5 March 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  Sub-Committee D considered the second supplementary memorandum and your letter of 5 March on this proposal at their meeting on 31 March and agreed to lift the scrutiny reserve.

  The Sub-Committee has asked me to thank you for your letter. They have also asked me to record their grave concern that the imposition of strict standards for the production of eggs within the EU will, unless similar standards are introduced for the production of eggs in third countries, undermine the ability of EU producers to compete effectively with cheap imports or to export to countries where welfare standards are significantly lower than those in the EU. As you point out in your letter, this applies particularly to the price-sensitive egg products sector.

  The Sub-Committee will examine with interest the next explanatory memorandum on this proposal, and the Commission report on issues arising from differences between EU and third country animal welfare standards, due by June.

14 April 1999

Letter from Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  You will recall that in April 1998 we submitted Explanatory Memorandum 6985/98 on a Commission proposal to revise Council Directive 88/166/EEC concerning the protection of laying hens kept in battery cages and extend EU controls to cover birds kept in non-cage systems. Since then a number of compromise texts have been produced and Supplementary Explanatory Memoranda were submitted on 15 December 1998 and 8 March 1999.

  There are currently two texts on the table. The first, 8411/99, is the Commission's own proposal, revised to take on board many of the amendments put forward by the European Parliament (EP) in its Opinion published in January. It does not, however, include a ban on the use of the battery cage from 2009 as recommended by the EP.

  The second text is the latest Presidency compromise proposal, 8624/99, which is the main focus of the negotiations which the German Presidency is hoping to bring to a conclusion at this week's Agriculture Council. This text includes a date from which the current form of the battery cage is to be banned (ie 1 January 2017) and requires some improvements (increased space allowances and inclusion of claw shorteners) in the interim. Standards are also proposed for furnished/enriched cages and for non-cage systems. These last are still a major cause of concern as the maximum stocking density remains at nine birds per square metre. As previously advised in the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 8 March 1999, a large proportion of UK systems operate at up to 12 birds per square metre (in line with RSPCA Freedom Food standards) with no apparent welfare problems.

  I enclose a further Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum covering the two current texts, together with a copy of the Presidency compromise document (8624/99).

  The outcome of the Agriculture Council discussions on this dossier is uncertain but I will keep you advised of developments.

14 June 1999

Letter from Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I promised in my letter of 14 June to let your Committee know the outcome of last week's discussions in the Agriculture Council concerning the welfare of laying hens. You will no doubt by now be aware that we secured an EU ban on the current battery cage—our primary objective in the negotiation—from 1 January 2012. I am sure your members will also wish to learn of some of the detail that is to be included in the new Directive.

  From January 2003, existing cages which comply with the current Council Directive (88/166/EEC) will be required to provide a bigger space allowance for each bird (550 sq cm) and claw shorteners. No new cages or rebuilt systems may be installed after this date. Enriched cages, with perches, nest box and litter, will continue to be permitted provided they comply with new EU standards, including a space requirement of 750 sq cm per bird, which come into effect on 1 January 2002.

  Minimum welfare standards for non-cage systems will apply to new systems from 1 January 2002. Systems already in use on that date will have until January 2007 to comply. We were able to secure a provision which goes some way to meeting our concern that some current UK systems fall outside the new requirements even though they operate without apparent welfare problems. UK producers who are operating non-cage systems when the new Directive is published in the Official Journal will be able to benefit from a provision allowing us to authorise them to continue to stock at up to 12 birds per square metre up to 31 December 2011, rather than having to change to the new maximum stocking density of nine birds per square metre from1 January 2007.

  Provision has been made for a further review of these standards by 1 January 2005 and for the adoption of a registration system aimed at providing a means of tracing eggs placed on the market for human consumption.

  I know that your Committee has expressed concern about the impact of Third Country imports. This has not been overlooked. The Council and the Commission have given an undertaking which will be recorded in the Council minutes emphasising the need to ensure equivalent conditions of competition between EU producers and those of Third Countries and the need to take into account, at international level, rules governing the well-being of animals, which should constitute one of the fundamental points of the negotiating mandate for the "Millennium Round" of the WTO negotiations.

  I have not forgotten the need to follow up your letter of 14 April expressing an interest in the Commission's report on Third Country welfare standards. I am afraid, however, that although the Commission has put this work in hand it seems unlikely that the Report will be available by the due date of 30 June.

  I will, of course, ensure that you have a copy of the final text of the proposal as agreed last week, together with the Council minutes as soon as these are available.

22 June 1999

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