Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Enforcement of European cage laws may begin in the New Year

THIRTEEN member states have been warned they face legal action because of their failure to comply with the imminent EU barren battery cage egg ban.

EU Health Commissioner John Dali has told Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that letters have already been sent to those member states that have made ‘little or no effort’ to conform to the new laws, informing them they will be taken to court.

Mr Dalli also confirmed that Commission inspection teams are ready to go ‘all out’ from January 1, when the ban on conventional cages comes in, to collect the evidence of non compliance to back up prosecutions when they go to court.

The 13 member states already in breach of new rules are: Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the Netherlands.

The European Commission has been heavily criticised for its failure to take firmer action to force member states to comply with the ban and to prevent trade in illegally produced eggs between member states after January 1.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon welcomed comments by the Commissioner at a recent meeting.

Mr Lyon said Mr Dalli had given him a guarantee that there would be no extension of the January 1 deadline, no derogations and ‘no escape route for those who have failed to comply’.

“I was pleased to hear that infringement procedures have already been started against member states that have chosen to flout the law and that EU inspectors are poised ready to gather evidence against them from the start of 2012,” he said.

“I hope the tough action he is taking will send a message to those countries who think that they can get off the hook by turning a blind eye that they better think again and get their hen houses in order.”

The UK Government has also been criticised for not doing more to protect domestic producers from illegally produced egg imports. Farming Minister Jim Paice said earlier this month that the UK could not enforce a unilateral ban due to the ‘very significant legal and practical implications’ and practical difficulties in implementing it.

Instead the UK will be relying largely on a voluntary food industry ban to keep illegal produce out of the country, or at least force them into the lower value processing sector.

Mr Lyon urged the Commission to ‘back to the hilt’ countries like the UK who he said are using ‘every means at their disposal to try and ban illegally produced eggs from entering their markets’.

“If that type of action is taken by all countries that are compliant it should hit hard at the pockets of illegal producers and force them to get out or upgrade,” he said.

NFU Scotland vice president of John Picken was unimpressed by the Commission’s belated actions of ‘sending letters and preparing teams to go out for inspection after the deadline has passed’. He called on the Commission and the UK Government to take a ‘stronger stance’ on enforcement of the regulations.

“We are days away from Scottish producers finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage as a result of complying with standards set by Europe. And once again the deeply disappointing message to industry is that Commission deadlines, and threats of infringement proceedings, are largely ineffectual,” he said.

“Scottish farmers who have complied in good faith ahead of the deadline face a competitive disadvantage, having borne the significant cost of moving to an enriched cage, barn or free range system.”

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