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Brussels, 14 July 2003

Commission takes four Member States to Court over protection of laying hens

The European Commission decided to refer Austria, Belgium, Greece and Italy to the European Court of Justice over their apparent failure to implement the 1999 Directive setting out the minimum standards for the protection of laying hens (1999/74/EC). All Member States were obliged to implement the Directive in national law by 1 January 2002 and notify the Commission of the measures taken. The Member States concerned received a “reasoned opinion” in January 2003 but have still failed to implement the Directive, which is why the Commission has now decided to take them to the European Court of Justice.

“This Directive was introduced in order to better protect the welfare of hens kept in battery cages and other rearing systems”, said David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. “It is imperative that Member States live up to the obligations they have undertaken.”

Setting higher standards for the protection of laying hens

Directive 1999/74/EC lays down updated minimum standards for the protection of laying hens, introducing new enhanced common rules to revise the legislation based on new scientific advice, thereby addressing previous legislative shortcomings.. Furthermore, it allows each Member State to introduce more stringent standards in its own territory.

The Directive distinguishes three types of minimum conditions in rearing systems for laying hens:

  • enriched cages(1), where laying hens have at least 750 cm2 of cage area per hen;

  • not enriched cage systems with 550 cm2 of cage area per hen (to be phased out before 2012);

  • non-cage systems with nests (at least one for 7 hens), adequate perches and where the stocking density does not exceed 9 laying hens per m2 usable area.

Further information

For further information on Directive 1999/74/EC see:

(1)Cages equipped with perches, a nest box and a littered area to allow pecking and scratching

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