Agriculture Minister Jim Paice today made it clear that British consumers deserve to see only eggs from hens kept in better welfare cages on supermarket shelves once the EU-wide 2012 “battery” cage ban comes in.
Announcing the laying of two regulations on poultry welfare, Mr Paice reinforced the Government’s commitment to high welfare standards in a speech to the Egg and Poultry Industry conference.
Mr Paice said:
“The UK industry has worked hard to convert out of battery cages ahead of the European deadline - so it wouldn’t be fair to them to have to compete with eggs from other European countries that haven’t met the deadline.
“I’ve told the Commission we won’t want to see any eggs imported from European countries that haven’t complied with the conventional cage ban after 2012.
A maximum legal stocking density for chickens of 39 kg/m2 will be established through a regulation laid today.
Mr Paice continued:
“For the first time there will be a legal maximum stocking density for meat chickens, which will provide a good baseline for our already high standards of poultry welfare - and much of the industry already meets many of the new requirements.”
Mr Paice also made clear the Government’s commitment to work towards a complete ban on beak trimming of laying hens, while lifting a ban on routine beak trimming that could inadvertently have led to worse welfare for hens. The regulation laid today will only allow beak trimming using infra-red technology.
Mr Paice said:
“I’m absolutely committed to banning beak trimming in the long term. But if we ban beak trimming immediately, it would mean worse welfare for laying hens. That’s why I’ve listened to the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council to allow infra-red technology to be used in beak trimming as we work towards a total ban in the future.”
The Government will work with the industry and the Beak Trimming Action Group to find alternatives to beak trimming, with a view to banning the practice in 2016.
Both regulations are subject to debate in the House of Commons and House of Lords before they can be made and come into force.
- Beak trimming: The Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended last year that routine break trimming of laying hens should not be banned until an alternative means of controlling feather pecking and cannibalism in laying flocks could be introduced. The Government has accepted this advice and has laid the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 before Parliament today. These Regulations remove the ban on routine beak trimming, but restrict the method used to the infra-red technology only.
- The Beak Trimming Action Group has been tasked with establishing an action plan, to work towards a future ban on beak trimming. A review will take place in 2015 to assess the achievements on the elimination of beak trimming to date, with a view to reinstating the ban in 2016.
- Stocking density for meat chickens - Scientific evidence clearly shows that there are welfare concerns associated with higher stocking densities. In addition, nearly 90 per cent of UK chicken production is already subject to a maximum stocking density of 38kg/m² as part of the Red Tractor Poultry Scheme, so there will be limited additional costs to the industry from this particular aspect of the Regulations. The new Regulations apply to holdings with 500 or more birds that are raised for meat, and cover the time chicks are brought to production sites until they leave for slaughter.
- Cage ban - From 2012 British farmers will only use as a minimum, better welfare cages that are enriched to provide laying hens more space to move about, perching and nest boxes for better welfare. Free range, barn and organic systems will also be permitted. Jim Paice has written to the European Commission asking for measures to prevent eggs from hens raised in conditions that do not meet the better welfare standards being imported to the UK from other Member States.