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Why Should Spain Call for Moratorium on Layer Rules?

1 February 2012, at 11:36am

ANALYSIS - This week, the Spanish farmers issued a plea to their ministry of agriculture to intercede on their behalf to gain time with the European Commission over the introduction of enriched cages for laying hens, writes ThePoultrySite Editor in Chief Chris Harris.

The farmers want a two–year moratorium on the EC changes banning battery cages for laying hens and demanding the installation of new larger cages giving hens more room.

They also want the Spanish government to give them soft loans to help them pay for the upgrades.

The poultry farmers estimate that the cost of installing the new cages on an average sized farm of 40,000 birds will be about €720,000 and they believe that if they are not given assistance, up to 40 per cent or about 400 farms will go out of business.

Spain is one of 14 countries that have not met the new EC regulation.

These states are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain and they represent around 45 million laying hens, that is, 14 per cent of egg production in the EU.

Even the UK that was boasting full compliance at the beginning of the year had to report that some farms had not fully converted to the new systems. Those farms are expected to have been upgraded or to have closed this month.

There is now great concern across Europe that a two–tier egg sector could be established.

The Danish presidency last month said that it was going to demand strict compliance with the new regulations and the EU Health Commissioner, John Dalli, was reported to be sending letters to member states, warning them of the legal action if they fail to comply with the EU battery cage ban.

The repercussions of half of the European states not complying with the rules has already been seen with the unilateral move from the Czech Republic banning the import of eggs from Poland because of that country's non-compliance.

However, there are major fears among the farming community that the EC could concede to requests such as those from Spain and give a two–year moratorium. The question then would and does rise: what will happen to those eggs that are still being produced in illicit cages?

Much of the product goes to produce liquid egg or powdered egg for the processing sector that cannot be traced. Even the most fastidious traceability systems will be beaten when the egg has already been broken and processed.

The problem is not only a welfare one but also an economic one, because eggs that have not been produced in the new enriched cages are cheaper than those that have.

In the UK, one food processor, Premier Foods, has managed to ensure that it is not importing egg products from producers, who are not complying with the regulations, by switching its production to purely free–range eggs.

However, the reaction from most producers, who are complying with the regulations, is that there should be no leeway, no moratorium and no assistance to farmers who have not already complied.

They argue that 12 years has already elapsed in which every farmer could have upgraded the production systems and they have already made considerable investment in order to upgrade their own systems.

There are also concerns from the pig sector, which will see the introduction of loose housing and a ban on stalls come into force next year that there will be similar cries of anguish from those, who have not bothered to change their production systems.

The Spanish farmers' organisation that is backing the call for a moratorium and loans for upgrades on the laying hens' systems, has also warned that the country's 75,000 pig farms face a bill of more than €700 million to make the changes to their pig housing.

However, pig farmers across Europe have had many years to make the changes and there will be a lot of anger among those who have already made the investment if the European Commission does not show a steely strength.