Moves begin to block the cage ban

A behind-the-scenes campaign has begun to keep battery cages for at least another decade.

Under the current EC Directive all member states must phase out conventional cages by 2012. But pressure is already being applied in Brussels to extend that deadline until at least 2017 and even as far as 2022.

The ‘save the cage’ issue was a major topic of discussion for experts from across the EU who gathered at the European Symposium on Poultry Welfare in the Polish city of Lublin. The magazine Poultry International reports a move by Italy to have the ban put off until 2022 and a concerted move by several southern European countries to “compromise” by agreeing a cut-off date of 2017.

The EC has played into the hands of the conventional cage lobby by the major delay in its review of cage policy—and its attitude to enriched cages—which was due in January of this year but is still to appear. Symposium delegates argued that this had compounded difficulties in making decisions over future investments and that more time was therefore needed.

Some countries have already acted on a cage ban. In Switzerland all cages are banned and Luxembourg will follow suit from January 2007. Austria banned the installation of all cages from January this year. Conventional units will have to close down by 2009 and those using enriched cages can continue for 15 years. Germany is considering a ban on conventional cages from 2007 and a total ban on all types from 2012.

Welfare groups are already beginning to campaign against the possible extension of cage life. Compassion in World Farming has already alerted its members that it has heard “alarming rumours” that there is to be a long postponement of the ban.

“We will be campaigning and lobbying strongly in the coming months to see that this does not happen,” said CIWF’s new chief executive Philip Lymbery. “The decision to ban cages was supported by between eighty and ninety per cent of the people of Britain. It is important that the will of the people is seen to be acted on.”

Mr Lymbery said he believed that the EC review of the cage decision, expected in January of this year, will not now appear before June of 2006.

The RSPCA has published a glossy 24 page booklet called “The case against cages” to press home its view that no cage system is acceptable.

As well as listing the welfare failures of cages the booklet sets out the findings of the research into costings of alternative systems.

As previously reported in the Ranger, by using multi-tier systems the Society is able to show that barn eggs can be produced for less than 4p a dozen more than cage and that free range (at 2,500 birds per hectare) can turn out eggs at less than 68p a dozen.

The booklet contains a stinging criticism of the British Egg Industry Council. It says the Council, through the BEIS, claims that the Lion Quality mark symbolises that eggs have been produced to higher standards of hygiene and animal welfare than required by EU or UK law. “This is despite the fact,” it goes on, “that it permits the use of conventional barren battery cages that only meet the bare minimum standards of the EU legislation. The RSPCA believes that by making such claims the BEIC may be misleading the public about the welfare of caged birds reared under the Lion scheme.”

It also records that in 1999 the BEIC concluded a joint agreement with the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming which accepted the phasing out of all battery cages and that setting out standards for enriched cages would not be appropriate.

“But following the agreement of the EU Directive,” says the booklet, “the views of the egg industry have changed considerably and since this time the industry has been fighting to allow the continued use of cages.”

The Society also calls for better labelling on all eggs and the introduction of mandatory labelling on all products that contain eggs. And under World Trade Organisation rules it wants agreement to allow EU subsidies for egg producers to prevent them being undercut by cheap cage products from other countries. This support, it says, should be paid under each country’s Rural Development Programme.