The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive is due to come into full force on 1st January 2012.  Its key requirement is a ban on the use of conventional cages for laying hens, although enriched cages, increasing the space and facilities for hens, will be allowed.

A review of the Directive was time-tabled in when it was initially agreed, and this was due to commence with a report by the European Commission to the Council of Ministers by 1st January 2005; this report has yet to be published, so the review has not begun. 

This delay has left considerable uncertainty throughout the egg industry, as producers await the outcome of the review before making the significant investment decisions required.

Besides the wholesale structural changes to the way eggs are produced in the EU, there are a number of practical, economic and competitive issues that need to be considered during the review.

The European egg industry believes that of the 300 million laying hens currently producing eggs in conventional cages in the EU-25, it is unlikely that they can all be moved to either enriched cages, or to non-cage systems, in the short period of time now left before 1st January 2012.  While it is anticipated that market forces may result in half of these moving to enriched cages or non-cage systems by 2012, this would leave 150 million hens in conventional cages. This would either result in a massive shortage of eggs in the EU if a ban on conventional cages is enforced from 2012, or massive overproduction as birds continue to produce eggs from this system. Either way, this is not acceptable to an industry that prides itself on being unsupported and being able to respond to market signals.

EUWEP presented a paper to the Commission last year, seeking a longer phase-out period for conventional cages from 2012 to 2017.  This would include some form of welfare-based points system that would take into account bird welfare, management and system design; those gaining the greater number of points could benefit from a longer derogation and vice versa.