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EU ban on bird cages may end up costing more

by 5m Editor
16 June 2005, at 12:00a.m.

EU - The EU ban on traditional cages for laying hens, scheduled for 2012, could cost European egg producers up to 354 million euros per year.

EU ban on bird cages may end up costing more - EU - The EU ban on traditional cages for laying hens, scheduled for 2012, could cost European egg producers up to 354 million euros per year.

An EC report calculates the cost of egg production indicating that switching to free range egg production increases cost by 20 percent, and barn egg production raises cost by 12 percent. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also recently opined that a marked increase in bacteriological, health and welfare problems should be expected.

Council Directive 1999/74/EC, which was meant to improve physiological welfare of laying hens, appears to in fact increase animal health and food safety concerns at a huge economical cost to producers.

Animal welfare for laying hens

Animal welfare in animal production has become an increasingly important concern in European agricultural politics and for the European Commission (EC). The reason is the perception by animal rights groups and the broader public that there is a direct link between European food crises and intensive animal production in recent years.

For the EU egg production sector, this resulted in Directive 1999/74/EC, which bans the traditional cages for egg production by 2012. This Directive leaves it up to member states to set the minimal standards for the replacement of these cages for laying hens.

While the Directive was approved in 1999, two studies to assess the socio-economic impact and the impact on food safety and animal welfare became available only recently.

Economic impact

An EC-sponsored "Study on the socio-economic implications of the various systems to keep laying hens", assesses the socio-economic impact of the directive and the implications of the 2012 ban on traditional caged egg production. It estimates a potential annual loss of 354 million euros for producers in all 25 EU states.

The implementation of the battery cage ban would increase egg production costs by 20 percent as a result of switching to free range production and by 12 percent for barn production, with a smaller increase to implement the enriched cage system.

The study involved extensive field research in the EU's 15 member states as well as in five third countries (Brazil, India, Mexico, Ukraine and the United States).

While the traditional battery cage still accounts for 85 percent of egg production across the EU (apart from Sweden, which has banned the use of such cages), in some states (e.g. Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK) alternative non-cage systems now account for a substantial share of output.

Some states like Germany, UK, Netherlands and France show a high degree of vertical integration from producer to packer to processor. These states generally tend to have large production units (as do Italy and Spain) while others tend to have more fragmented production units (like Austria, Greece, Ireland, Portugal).

The 25 EU states produced 6.349 million tonnes of eggs for human consumption in 2003, an increase of 10 percent since 1995. The 25 states produce just over 100 percent of its domestic egg requirements and is a marginal net exporter of eggs. It is expected that imports will increase by 3-4 percent when battery cages are banned.

EFSA's Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) recently issued an "Opinion of the AHAW Panel related to the welfare aspects of various systems of keeping laying hens", in which it signals that the removal of battery cages is likely to see an increase in bacteriological, health and welfare problems.

Most difficult problems, e.g. insect-borne infections, feather-pecking and cannibalism, are expected to occur in alternative and outdoor systems, with much depending on the management of the holding itself. While this study only focused on the food safety and animal welfare aspects of the different egg production systems, it is obvious the potential problems identified will come at a serious economic cost to the producer.

The fact that studies on the socio-economic impact and the impact on food safety and animal welfare of Directive 1999/74/EC were published only five years after the approval of the Directive indicates that the potential impact of this directive was under-estimated.

On the other hand, animal welfare aspects of animal farming are becoming more important, not only in Europe but also in the United States and other parts of the world; e.g. alternative egg production systems are also developing in the US.

Source: eFeedLink - 16th June 2005

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