We are now only weeks away from implementation of the EU’s cage ban, and the first few weeks of 2012 promise to be an interesting time. Just what will happen to all those eggs that come from hens reared in conditions that do not comply with the new rules?

Lack of compliance has certainly been a worry for those producers that have invested and made the change. Their fears, understandably, are that they will be undercut by farmers producing eggs more cheaply and could go out of business.

The degree of compliance varies from Member State to Member State within the EU, with some states complying well, some where the major producers have converted and some where there has been little action. Requests for official delays were turned down, but there almost certainly will be delays in total compliance.

Time running out  

Some national agriculture ministers have been putting pressure on the EU to enforce the rules, but there seems to be no immediate solution to the problem. While Brussels is saying that it will launch proceedings against Member States that fail to comply, this can be a long and drawn-out process. Over the time taken to conclude any formal action, compliant producers could find their markets taken from them.

While often accused of being far from the farmer’s friend, a number of supermarkets have stated that they will only accept eggs from farms that meet the new rules, be those eggs fresh or processed for use in other goods. While this is commendable, it does nothing to address the wider issue of goods entering that market that are, in fact, illegal.


Mockery and support  

Some welfare groups have accused the EU’s current stance as making a mockery of the original rules. So we find ourselves in a situation where some national governments, law-abiding farmers, and welfare groups all appear to have fallen into the same camp.

To look at the situation from the other side, those farmers that have failed to comply may not have had the resources or their governments' support to help them. And what would consumers do if their supplies of eggs are cut off? And anyway, while often supporting higher welfare, don’t many believe that consumers ultimately vote with their wallets? What will become of all those layers if their eggs are no longer traded?

Yet the fact remains that the EU Hens Directive was adopted back in 1999, so producers have had a good while to get things right.

Although I hate to say it, 1999 was the same year that the Euro was introduced as an accounting unit. Since then, have we not seen a good amount of countries fail to comply with the rules and land us all in an awful lot of confusion? It is too early to say what will actually happen come January, but looking at the confusion that continues to surround the Euro might give us some idea.