Layer Welfare Impacts the Spanish Industry, Consumers

ANALYSIS - The new EU Directive, which bans the use of non enriched cages for laying hens, is a challenge for the Spanish egg industry. Even Spanish consumers have faced a challenge because of high egg prices. The Spanish Association of Egg Producers discussed the new scenario for the industry with Nuria Martínez Herráez, ThePoultrySite editor.
calendar icon 17 May 2012
clock icon 6 minute read

European Council Directive 1999/74/EC of 19 July 1999, which establishes minimum standards for the protection of laying hens’ welfare, came into force on 1 January 2012 and has created much concern for poultry producers and consumers.

Due to this concern ThePoultrySite asked the Spanish Association of Egg Producers (ASEPRHU) about the state of the Spanish egg industry. María del Mar Fernández Poza, the Association’s General Manager, answered the questions.

What percentage of egg producers have not been able to adapt their production facilities yet to the new EU Directive about laying hens’ welfare, which came into force on 1 January 2012?

M.M.F.P: “In Spain, the work to adapt laying farms is being finished. Some poultry producers will not be able to adapt their facilities and they will suspend their operations. The percentage of these producers could be around 30 per cent of total egg farms, especially those, who are small producers.”

What will happen to those producers, who have not adapted their facilities? And, what about those who decided to target their production only to processed egg products?

M.M.F.P: “Only the production from farms, which have an on-going programme gradually eliminating the non–enriched cages before the deadline set by the European Commission – July 2012 – can be used in the egg processing industry. Those, who have not joined that programme and have not started the adaptation, cannot continue their production operations; not even during the first half of 2012. Therefore, they had to get rid of their hens and close their farms.”

Is the EU Directive the only reason for the increase in egg prices over the last few months? For instance, are the high feed or commodity prices also driving this increase in egg prices?

M.M.F.P: “In the last few years, the high feed prices were not a reason for the increase in egg prices because there was surplus production. The reason for the increase in egg prices during the first months in 2012 is the adjustment in laying hen population. This adjustment has taken place in several countries within the EU at the same time, because of the Directive. Therefore, a decrease in the egg supply has occurred.”

What was the impact of higher egg prices on producers’ profitability?

M.M.F.P: “Poultry producers cannot calculate the impact using the data from one or two months. Right now, prices are high. However, they have been suffering losses for several months. We assume that in two to three years, producers will be able to determine their real profitability.”

Some weeks ago, INOVO (Spanish Association for the Egg Product Industry) released a statement, which talked about the egg shortage in Europe and how it could affect the normal development of food industry operations using eggs. What is the situation in Spain? Is the domestic demand met or have imports been necessary to avoid an impact on the food processing industry? Is it expected that egg prices will increase in the following months?

M.M.F.P: “At the moment, there is a small egg supply in Spain and there are some difficulties in meeting the demand for both table eggs and eggs for processing. This situation could last at least throughout 2012 given the production projections expected by the European Commission.

“We are not aware of the egg import data in Spain, however, the EU egg import data for January and February has been released and it is significant: 51 per cent higher than the same months in 2011.”

What does the Spanish egg industry think about the EU allowing egg imports from third countries such as the US, Turkey or Mexico without requiring them to produce in accordance with the new Directive on laying hen welfare that has been imposed on European producers?

M.M.F.P.: “Poultry producers ask reciprocity on production requirements for imported egg and egg products. It is not acceptable to impose unilateral standards, which are translated into higher costs and lower profitability for European producers, while eggs that are considered illegal are imported into the EU. It is a type of discrimination that neither producers nor consumers can understand.

“In the end, this trend will result in the loss of hens, farms and European companies because eggs will be imported. We’ll have fewer high–welfare hens in Europe – exactly the opposite to what the Directive was looking for,” concludes María del Mar Fernández Poza.

Dissatisfaction over the Battery Cage Ban

The Secretary–General of ASAJA (Agricultural Association of Young Farmers) in Castilla y León, José Antonio Turrado, also gave his opinion about the issue in an opinion article on the ASAJA web site.

“The strict regulation on animal welfare imposed by the EU, which forces us to treat animals much better than how humans are treated in some regions in the world, has forced farmers to reduce the number of laying hens in order to give more space in their cages to the ones remaining. The fewer hens there are, the lower the production of eggs. If the demand was exactly the same as before, the increase in egg prices would be the most logical result.”

Moreover, he warned this is just a prelude to what will happen next year due to the implementation of an EU Directive on the welfare of pigs.

To sum up, it appears that the Directive on animal welfare has provoked more sadness than joy within the poultry and agricultural industries given that the EU requirements on welfare contradict the industry’s interests. In addition, they also contradict the consumers’ interests, who have seen (and paid for) an increase on egg prices over the last months.

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