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Feed for Thought

Egg Production

An omelet with European eggs?

January 13, 2012

The European Commission is unhappy about the lack of compliance by some egg production farms with the European Directive concerning hen welfare. Despite being issued in 1999, with an absolute deadline of January 1, 2012, some poultry farmers are still not conforming to the new rules about cage size and enriched battery cages. This regulation deals with space necessities for hens to spread their wings, perch and be able to move around, and bans old-style cages (550 square centimeters) to a minimum of 750 square centimeters per bird. It translates to an investment that reaches nearly 1 million Euros for each building of 40,000 hens.

Germany was the first country to comply with this process. As early as 2009 it had a strong impact on egg prices in Europe, as the conforming process for each farm takes six months and must, of course, occur in an empty building. France, another big producer, is nearly ready, but about 10% of its eggs were still not issued from conforming farms on New Year’s Day. Spain is affirming that everything is OK, but professionals estimate that only 60% of its production is conforming, which is about the same in Italy. And, what about Poland or Bulgaria? The British Hen Welfare Trust estimates that 80 million European hens may still be in “illegal cages.” Some economists have pointed out competitive distortion between those who invested to conform to the law and those who didn’t. So, European commissioner John Dali (DG Sanco) wants to show that its services will be vigilant: They will begin implementing controls very soon, requiring each European country to send an “etat des lieux,” assessing the country’s current state of compliance, and an action plan.

European Parliament is pushing the Commission to actively fight against offenders, while animal welfare associations claim that the new rules are not strong enough… society and production are fighting again. But, marketing will negotiate peace with consumption: No commercial brand wants to be pointed out as the black sheep of the family regarding egg production when it comes to eggs sold in shell. So, all eggs produced on nonconforming farms will probably not be sold on the fresh market. These eggs could not be avoided when the financial crisis drove many people to the verge of poverty or even into poverty. These eggs will now be transformed by the egg products industry. The last producers to conform don’t want to be viewed as the “bad boy.” So, the industry is thinking about reserving those products to export.

At the same time, one of the biggest concerns among professionals is importation: no control is based on the production situation abroad.

This example shows how strong societal demands and production means are connected. But, egg proteins are still the cheapest of all animal proteins.

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