The UK egg sector is now fully compliant with the ban on conventional cages, with the last few remaining units now out of production, DEFRA has confirmed.
The industry had expected to be fully compliant when the new EU welfare legislation came into effect on 1 January 2012. But DEFRA told the EU Commission in early January that there were still some 32 UK producers using the old-style cages, housing over 400,000 birds.
Even though this amounted to just 1% of national production, technically it put the UK in the same position as 13 other member states which had failed to fully convert to enriched cages.
Farming minister Jim Paice expressed his anger and embarassment at the time and called on Trading Standards to take action against the illegal operators. But DEFRA has now confirmed that the barren cages have been taken out.
According to the EU Commission, there are still around 47 million hens, out of 330 million, in conventional cages in the EU. On 26 January it sent "letters of formal notice" to 13 member states - Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain - giving them two months in which to justify their non-compliance, or face further legal sanction.
Since then, Bulgaria has indicated that it will be compliant with the new rules by the end of May.
Meanwhile, welfare group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is urging people to email the new Italian health minister, demanding that he provides accurate figures on the number of illegal hens in his country, and that he produce an action plan detailing how he will rectify the huge level of non-compliance.