You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, but the implementation of the European Union’s Welfare of Laying Hens Directive can hardly be said to have landed sunny side up.

The finger has been pointed at a number of countries for failing to implement the cage ban in full, and some are held up as being worse offenders than others. It has been said that production in Spain this year will contract by 20 percent. The Spanish government is implementing various measures, with a grace period, to make farmers switch over, and by mid-year there should be no more birds in illegal cages in Spain. We will have to wait until the mid-year mark to see what actually happens.

However, Spain is not alone in failing to comply by January 1, and overall, egg production in Europe is forecast to be some 2.5 percent lower in 2012. For those that have complied, it means that they are sitting on a valuable commodity!

Will the various approaches to the change implemented by Europe’s nation states serve as models in some ways for other countries that are considering a similar change?

While in some countries animal welfare is far from the top of the agenda, and few enough eggs are produced to meet local needs, let alone export to higher welfare countries, initiatives in one part of the world do have a tendency to eventually be replicated in another. And because in many countries eggs are so widely consumed both in their own right and as part of other products, this is a market where change of any kind can have a major impact. As living standards rise, consumer concerns and demands change, and it is always a danger to think “It couldn’t happen here.” Whether you agree or disagree with them, in a world of easy communications, animal rights groups can quickly bring issues to the top of the public agenda.

The change in Europe has certainly generated column inches and kept the press busy, but it has had an impact that is far greater than simply creating the latest talking point. No doubt, the market will eventually even out — markets, over time, usually do — yet, averting a crisis is always better than picking up the pieces once the crisis has occurred.

This June, WATT will be hosting a Webinar on the economic ramifications of moving out of conventional cages, and while, of course, I would encourage you to attend all the WATT webinars, this one is particularly timely!