Europe’s decision to impose a paltry fine on Italy for defying the ban on laying cages is a slap in the face for Scottish egg producers.
It was announced this week that Italy has been found guilty of failing to comply with the EU ban on battery cages, which came into force on January 1 2012. Following lengthy court proceedings, the European Court of Justice found Italy guilty of failing to implement the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive of 1999. Despite a 13-year lead in period to the ban coming into force, the Italian authorities claimed they did not have sufficient time to make sure all farms were compliant in time.
Disappointingly, as far as retribution goes, Italy will only have to pay the legal costs of the case and the commission did not ask for any further financial penalties to be levied against them. In the Union’s view, that level of fine will do nothing to drive compliance with existing or future welfare rules across the EU. A case against Greece regarding non-compliance with the laying cage ban has still to be resolved but NFUS understands that, if found guilty, the country would also only face paying legal costs.
In a double blow for Scottish producers, the European Union has no plans to inspect compliance with the laying cage ban in the member states that failed to meet the January 1, 2012 deadline. By comparison, Scottish and UK egg producers invested heavily in their egg production systems to ensure 100 percent compliance by that date.
NFU Scotland’s Animal Welfare Policy Manager Penny Johnston said:
“It is incredibly frustrating to hear that Italy will effectively go unpunished for allowing its farmers to continue to use illegal cage systems, undercutting our egg producers for the last two-and-a-half years.
“That is unacceptable; it is a slap in the face to all nations – including Scotland – that took the steps and bore the costs of upgrading egg systems. To add insult to injury, the fine makes a mockery of the penalty system given that this was a clear and deliberate flouting of the rules.
“There is another case against Greece still outstanding. Again it would appear that the commission has also only asked that costs of the court case be paid by Greece if found guilty.
“These lamentable efforts in delivering and enforcing animal welfare legislation sends out a message to Member States that failure to comply with current or future rules will only result in a ‘slap-on-the-wrist’. That means Europe is ill-serving its consumers and undermining the excellent standards being met on those Scottish and UK farms producing eggs.
“To regain trust, a programme of inspections is needed in all those countries that ‘struggled’ with compliance. Last year, the Union challenged representatives from the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) and its Animal Welfare Unit on the poor progress on inspections to verify Member States are compliant with both the ban on conventional laying cages and the partial ban on sow stalls that came into force at the start of 2013.
“It is apparent that in the intervening months, no improvement has been delivered. The Commission’s attitude towards inspection and enforcement of these important pieces of welfare legislation fails to ensure that all producers across Europe are abiding by the same set of rules.
“European consumers deserve better and Europe must review and address the significant failings in the way it goes about introducing and enforcing welfare legislation.”