The European cage ban rarely features in the headlines these days, but this does not mean that egg production is harmonized across the bloc’s Member States. 


The behavior of Greece and Italy, among others, has caused a few headaches for the European Commission and the European egg industry, and resulted in the issuance of guidance, but now the case of the two countries is being handed up to the European Court of Justice.


In the period immediately after the compliance deadline, there was a lot of complaining about those countries that had failed to completely replace their conventional cages but, little by little, those recalcitrant states fell into line. Battery cages have still not completely gone from the European Union, however. 


Greece and Italy are the remaining offenders.The failure of these two states to comply is not good for community spirit, either at the level of the egg industry or in a wider sense, and their failure to comply is not helping to paint a positive picture of the sector.


Take for example, the comment from charity Four Paws, which says: “Only a month ago, we exposed two large Italian farms still squeezing hundreds of thousands of hens into illegal cages.” Compassion in World Farming notes that Italy and Greece have 20 million hens confined in barren battery cased, despite having 10 years to prepare for the January 2012 deadline. While the latter comment may be a little less emotive, it does not really do a lot of good for the broader reputation of the egg industry. 


But if action against the two countries is to be taken through the Court of Justice, is this reasonable? 

Diplomacy and pressure

The European Commission is taking the two countries to the Court of Justice over their failure to properly implement Directive 1999/74/EC banning “un-enriched cages.” 


To re-state Compassion in World Farming, there has been at least a decade to modify production methods and bring them into line with what is set out in the directive. 


And looking back over recent history, in January 2012, the commission sent a letter of formal notice asking Italy and Greece – along with 11 other Member States – to address deficiencies in the implementation of EU legislation concerning the welfare of animals, and specifically to implement the ban on un-enriched cages for laying hens, which applied as of January 1, 2012. Failure to take action resulted in the issuing of a reasoned opinion on June 21, 2012


As late as November last year, Cyprus was also being held up for non-compliance, but little by little, the various states have fallen into line. The change over took a significant effort to achieve, with some producers going out of business and some national industries contracting, and even some those countries that missed the deadline made a pretty big effort, albeit late, to bring their industries into line. 


Unofficially, there has been a gentleman’s agreement in Europe that eggs from conventional cages can only be used for processing and only within those states from which they originate. However, this does not mean that compliant member states were happy with the situation — or for it to continue. 


And in a bloc that is supposed to allow the free movement of goods and services, the current situation is clearly resulting in a trade distortion and unfair competition. 


So now the Court of Justice is involved, and let us hope that those countries summoned, take responsibility for their actions, or lack of. And if it is still a case of “lack of” — what then?