Ten EU countries told to improve hen cages

Battery hens on farm near Milan, Italy - file pic
Image caption Battery hens in Italy: EU law now bans cramped cages that cause suffering

The European Commission has warned 10 EU countries that they face court cases if they fail to improve cages for egg-laying hens in line with EU law.

The final warning came after the 10 failed to meet a 1 January deadline for improving animal welfare.

The countries are: Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal.

UK Conservatives said the warning from Brussels was not enough. They demanded "tough and rigorous enforcement".

"Every day that passes without decisive action is another day when British egg-producers face loss of their livelihoods because of unfair competition," said Conservative MEP Julie Girling, an agriculture specialist.

"Lack of a swift and firm response has clearly led some foreign producers to think they can continue cheating the system unchallenged."

The Commission's "reasoned opinion" on Thursday demands action by member states - and if they ignore it they face being taken to the European Court of Justice.

Directive 1999/74/EC, which took effect on 1 January, requires that all laying hens must be kept in "enriched cages" with extra space to nest, scratch and roost.

Countries that still allow the use of "un-enriched" cages "put businesses that invested in complying with the new measures at a disadvantage", the Commission said. It is the EU's executive arm, responsible for drafting European law.

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