Anger at lenient action over battery hens

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“Better late than never” was the rather frosty comment from NFU Scotland yesterday to the news that the European Commission was taking action against Greece and Italy for not complying with legislation banning the use of battery cages.

The regulations came into force in January 2012 after a 12-year lead in period to allow producers to convert their production to more animal welfare friendly systems.

After welcoming the belated moves by the Commission, the spokesman for NFU Scotland queried would be taken against the other countries that were very late in complying.

“Just a month ago, the Commission said there were a total of four non-compliant member states,” he said. “These are believed to be Italy, Greece, Poland and Cyprus. Now it’s confirmed that Italy and Greece are the worst offenders but the others were at least 15 months late in complying with the rules and yet seem to be off the hook. That is disappointing and sends out all the wrong messages if we are to secure Europe-wide compliance with any future animal welfare legislation.

The union also queried just how truthful were the claims of compliance by some member states. “Little action appears to have been undertaken to ensure that those who claim to be compliant actually are.

“Four of the countries that failed to meet the original deadline, Belgium, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, have not had an inspection to establish that they are now compliant and no inspections are scheduled for 2013.

“Just last month we pointed out to the Commission that these member states have yet to be re-inspected despite being found deficient in their compliance during previous inspections. As no further action seems to have been taken against them, then there is no verification that they are now complying with regulations that all Scottish egg producers have been meeting since the legislation came into force.”

English NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner pointed out that poultry farmers in the UK had spent in excess of £400 million to ensure that their systems met new welfare standards, so it was vital that there was a level playing field throughout Europe.”

Any financial penalties imposed by Europe would be based on the perceived seriousness of the offence and the member state’s ability to pay. With Italy believed to be almost in compliance and Greece having bigger financial and political issues to contend with, it is unlikely there will be much in the way of financial retribution.