HC Deb 08 December 1994 vol 251 cc455-6
1. Mr. Lewis

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures he proposes to improve the welfare of battery hens.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning)

Regulations implementing directive 88/166 setting out minimum standards for the welfare of laying hens kept in battery cages will come fully into force on 1 January 1995.

Mr. Lewis

Notwithstanding that reply, does the Minister agree that a comprehensive labelling system might be better for birds than those regulations? There is a great deal of misleading information in our shops about farm fresh or country fresh eggs. Would the welfare of battery hens not be improved if the shopper knew the exact origin of the eggs that he was buying?

Mrs. Browning

We believe that it is important that the consumer is not misled in any way. We shall continue to monitor carefully any claims made on egg packaging.

Mr. Riddick

Is my hon. Friend aware that many poultry farmers feel that we are applying the new regulations on cage sizes for battery hens much more stringently than our European partners? Why is it that we always seem to abide by the rules while our so-called partners appear not to do so?

Mrs. Browning

I can assure my hon. Friend that the welfare of battery hens is of paramount importance. We have pressed for much higher standards, particularly in respect of cage sizes, which will apply, for example, to cages containing fewer than three birds. Therefore, although I sympathise with my hon. Friend's claim that other countries do not keep to the rules, we do, and we want to bring their standards up to our extremely high levels.

Mr. Morley

Does the Minister agree that it is not enough just to monitor the labelling of eggs? Is she aware that the National Opinion Poll organisation found that 34 per cent. of consumers thought that eggs labelled "farm fresh" were free range when they were, in fact, battery eggs? Does she agree that it should not be left to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to introduce schemes such as the "Freedom Food" scheme, excellent though it is? We need less monitoring and more action.

Mrs. Browning

I was discussing this matter with the industry only this week. It, too, is aware of the problem and is anxious to show the consumer that claims made on packaging are true and to ensure that the consumer is correctly informed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to monitor the matter carefully.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Will my hon. Friend continue to try to raise standards of welfare for battery hens in Europe while bearing it in mind that we are operating within a single market? Will she ensure that the Government do not introduce unilateral new regulations which would undermine our competitiveness?

Mrs. Browning

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend of that, but she will be aware that the directive which I mentioned requires the Community to review its detail. We shall be asking specifically for significantly increased cage sizes and for the enrichment of cages by means of perches and scratching bars. We shall also ask for the regulations to pay particular attention to the welfare of laying hens which are not necessarily battery hens.

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