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Battery Cages

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 17 March 2011

6. What recent discussions she has had on the introduction of a prohibition on battery cages for laying hens. (47199)

7. What recent discussions she has had on the introduction of a prohibition on battery cages for laying hens. (47200)

At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 21 February, some member states sought more time to implement the ban on conventional cages, which is coming into force on 1 January 2012. I was the first Minister to emphasise that any delay would be grossly unfair to egg producers in the UK and other member states that have made significant investments to adapt and enrich cages. The Government will continue to play a full part in EU discussions to find a practical solution.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and for her excellent efforts. Did those discussions also include the importation of derived products into this country?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is important that we are clear about the provenance of liquid-egg and dried-egg products. Many farmers in the European Union have made the investment to improve the welfare of laying hens, and therefore the deadline has to be respected.

The Minister will be aware that many farmers in my constituency of Monmouth have worked extremely hard to comply with that legislation. I am grateful to her for saying that it would be unfair if other EU countries do not, but can she say what would happen if other countries, including new entrants, were exempt from that legislation?

I am not talking about exemption. Obviously the Commission can threaten infraction proceedings against member states whose egg producers are non-compliant, but in my view that will not be enough. One of the options that we have suggested to the Commission is an intra-Community trade ban, which would restrict the sale of eggs that continued to be produced from conventional cages after the deadline had expired.

Will the right hon. Lady show some caution on this? Those of us who are passionate about animal welfare remember when this country moved ahead on protecting young calves reared for veal from disgraceful conditions. Veal in this country is now well produced. The young animals have a decent life, but most of them are killed at birth, which means that we import badly produced veal from France.

Veal is not the same thing as eggs. None the less, the sentiment expressed in the hon. Gentleman’s question is important. The point is that member states and producers have known for 10 years that the change would come, and the accession countries seeking to join the Union knew full well before they entered that those were the welfare standards that would apply.

Given the Secretary of State’s remarks, can she clarify whether she will be proposing a ban on shell, liquid and powdered egg from countries such as Poland that will not meet the deadline, and if so, will she also be banning products such as quiche and cakes from those countries?

I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the Commission is looking at this. He might be interested to know that the Minister of State and the Commission will both appear before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 22 March, when there will be ample opportunity to debate in detail the application of measures to ensure that the deadline is respected.

According to the European Commission’s social and economic report, a free-range egg costs just 2p more to produce than a battery egg. Does the Minister agree that this is a price worth paying for animal welfare?

It is absolutely clear that the welfare of laying hens is improved by investment in enriched cages. However, it is also true that many consumers enjoy the choice of free-range eggs, and those choices should continue to exist.