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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

EU Ban (Keeping of Hens in Conventional Cages)

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I know many members of the House have been following progress on the implementation of the EU-wide ban on the keeping of hens in conventional cages. I, therefore, want to take this opportunity to update the House and explain how the ban will be enforced by DEFRA and the devolved Administrations.

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Council Directive 1999/74/EC, which lays down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens, bans the keeping of hens in conventional (?battery?) cages from 1 January 2012. This represents one of the most significant welfare advances across the EU and DEFRA, along with the devolved Administrations, has been working hard to see it effectively implemented across the European Union.

The Government acknowledge the sterling job that the UK egg industry has done in preparing for the ban and the very big investment made in converting to other production systems, demonstrating its commitment to animal welfare, which is also a serious consideration for many consumers when purchasing food. The vast majority of UK producers will be compliant by 1 January 2012.

It is a different story across Europe. 13 of the 27 member states have said that they will not be ready. There could be about 50 million hens that will still be in conventional cages across the EU in unacceptable conditions on 1 January 2012.

We want to protect our producers who have invested some 400 million in converting out of conventional cages, equivalent to spending 25 per hen housed. To this end, I have met with the Commission a number of times over the last year in an attempt to find a solution. A reliance on infraction proceedings against non-compliant member states will not be enough to deal with the negative impact that non-compliance would cause and that additional enforcement measures would need to be put in place to prevent market disturbance. In September, the Secretary of State wrote jointly with nine other concerned member states to the European Commission urging them to act quickly. At the October Agriculture Council, the Commission indicated that despite their efforts an intra-Community trade ban was not legally possible.

The Commission then turned to looking for a robust enforcement approach that avoids large numbers of producers having to close down their operations and the destruction of millions of hens and non-compliant eggs, while at the same time protecting all those producers who have complied with the ban and implemented a flagship animal welfare issue. While I never wished to see the 2012 deadline delayed, I was willing to explore the idea of a practical solution which would give some protection to UK and other compliant producers, by ensuring eggs from illegal cages did not leave the country of origin.

There was a meeting at official level on 29 November, where the Commission said that the early stages of pre-infraction procedures had already begun with non-compliant member states. The idea of a gentleman?s agreement will not be progressed, but the Commission has asked for action plans from all non-compliant member states, many of whom supported keeping non-compliant eggs within national borders. The Commission?s Food and Veterinary Office missions will be targeted at the beginning of 2012 at non-compliant member states and all member states have been asked to submit lists of compliant and non-compliant producers.

We have decided that the UK enforcement strategy to deal with non-compliance with the conventional cage ban will be robust.

The Government have thoroughly investigated the possibility of taking unilateral action and bringing in a UK ban on all imports of egg and egg products which

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have been produced in conventional cages in other member states. However, given the very significant legal and financial implications of introducing such a ban, coupled with practical difficulties in enforcing it, it is not a realistic option.

Instead, DEFRA and the devolved Administrations will be adopting the most robust enforcement approach available to us within the legal constraints that exist. Risk-based surveillance to ensure imported shell eggs from other member states have been produced in compliance with the cage ban will be in place from 1 January. The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) is the body responsible for enforcing the conventional cage ban in Great Britain. Its knowledge of the industry and those importing eggs, coupled with an understanding of a member state?s level of compliance will define the level of surveillance.

AHVLA surveillance on imports of shell eggs will use ultraviolet light analysis to identify batches of caged eggs that are not from an enriched cage environment. This technique has successfully been used to date to identify caged eggs within batches described as being produced in alternative systems, for example, free-range. It has not up until now been used to specifically identify different types of caged egg production, but we have had the technique independently validated and it can be done. This technique will be used as a marker to prompt further action. Once suspected non-compliant shell eggs are identified, AHVLA will contact the Competent Authority in the originating member state and ask for confirmation of the system of production.

If they are found to be from an illegal system, they will be prevented from being marketed as class A eggs and would be sent for processing (i.e. be treated as class B eggs)?if indeed any UK processors would accept them. If the eggs were found to be from a compliant system, the eggs would be released.

We believe this scrutiny will mean importers will make greater efforts to ensure the source and integrity of the eggs they import, given the economic disadvantage that would follow if they were importing illegally produced eggs. We have no wish to hinder legal trade or disadvantage compliant producers wherever they are in Europe and we are quite happy to use member states? own lists of compliant producers, which AHVLA can check against and which will mean that these consignments are less likely to be held up.

However, the import of processed egg, principally in liquid or powdered form, is less easy to trace as the supply chain is less transparent and more challenging to audit. Because of a loophole in the egg marketing regulations, we cannot prohibit the marketing of any eggs produced in conventional cages from 1 January 2012 which are sent to processing (whether sent as ungraded or class B), nor can we prohibit the use of any products made from such eggs. We will continue to press in Europe to get this loophole closed, but until then we are taking steps to establish as much compliance as is possible with the conventional cage ban for egg products by working closely with the food industry.

An essential part of the UK?s enforcement strategy is to ensure that retailers, egg processors, food manufacturers and the food service industry have stringent traceability tests in place to ensure that they are not using non-compliant eggs from either the UK or from other member states. Once again, our industry has risen to that challenge.

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Retailers, food manufacturers, food service companies and processors have come out publically in support of UK egg producers. The British Retail Consortium has guaranteed that conventional caged eggs will not be bought by the major retailers or used as ingredients in their own brand products. They have put in place stringent traceability tests to ensure that they will not be buying conventional caged eggs. Retailers that have made this guarantee are Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Asda, J Sainsbury, Co-operative Group, Tesco, Waitrose, Iceland Foods, Greggs, Starbucks and McDonald?s. Many food manufacturers and food service companies have also given a similar guarantee for eggs or egg products. They include: Premier Foods plc, Marlow Foods Ltd, United Biscuits, Ferrero UK, Apetito, Allied Mills, Allied Bakeries, Burton?s Biscuit Company, Speedibake, Dairy Crest, The Silver Spoon Company, Westmill Foods, Compass, Baxter Storey, and Sodexo. The following egg processors have also signed up to not sourcing conventional caged eggs from 1 January 2012: Manton?s, Noble Foods, Framptons, Fridays, Oaklands Farm Eggs, Lowrie Foods, and the UK Egg Centre. We are in discussion with others who we hope to be able to add to this list.

The UK is 82% self-sufficient in egg and egg products, with the remaining 18% coming from other member states. Of the 18% of egg and egg products being imported, approximately 50% will be imported as shell egg and 50% imported as egg product (liquid or powder). The fact that we have managed to get the majority of UK processors on board, reduces the likelihood of non-compliant egg products being imported and demonstrates that full traceability is possible and should not be used as a justification by others to say that it is not.

Ultimately, it will be for the Competent Authority in each member state to take responsibility at source for ensuring that their producers no longer keep hens in conventional cages post 1 January 2012. If a retailer purchased eggs from a conventional cage that are marked incorrectly as class A, without exercising appropriate due diligence, they would be committing a marketing offence. The caterer, processor or product manufacturer might also be guilty of aiding and abetting such an offence if they knowingly purchased eggs purporting to be class A which derive from illegal cages.

The Government will also do their bit to protect compliant producers. We will be making necessary changes to the Government Buying Standards mandatory criteria to ensure that eggs produced in conventional cages, are not used in any form whether this is fresh, powdered or liquid.

Given our commitment to support compliant producers, we will also be taking tough action against any UK producers found to have laying hens in conventional cages after 1 January 2012. The AHVLA have visited the vast majority of known cage producers to remind them of the need to comply with the conventional cage ban when it comes into force at the end of the year and at the same time find out producers? intentions, as to whether they will cease production or convert to alternative systems. Similar action has also been taken by Scottish Government officials and officials in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. This has helped to build a picture of where remaining non-compliance may be found and thus where risk based inspections should be targeted in the UK from

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1 January 2012. All producers targeted by the intelligence led risk analysis will be visited at the beginning of next year. If contraventions are found at the time of the visit, they will be dealt with using provisions within the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, which implements Council Directive 99/74/EC, and the egg marketing regulations. A compliance notice will be issued immediately to ensure that conventional caged eggs do not go into the class A market, preventing the producer from benefiting from the production of illegally produced eggs and prosecution will be considered. Similar action will be taken as appropriate in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We will be monitoring the situation carefully in the new year and will not hesitate to raise matters in Europe if any issues arise. I, together with my ministerial colleagues in the devolved Administrations, intend to continue urging the Commission to learn lessons from this experience with the conventional cage ban to avoid the same kind of problems occurring next year, leading up to the EU ban on the use of sow stalls on 1 January 2013.