The proposal for an EU directive on the protection of chickens was made in May 2005, following a very long consultative process. The bones of the proposal likely to emerge were largely known as far back as 2003 or 2004. This proposed directive is a consequence of a report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare published in March 2000, the aim of which is to protect the welfare of intensively farmed chickens.
Among the main issues covered in the proposed directive are: the requirements for keeping chickens, including stocking density; the training of operatives; labelling; inspections; guidelines on good management practice; and penalties. The main meat — no pun intended — of the proposal is covered in the annexes. Annex I sets out the basic requirements in regard to drinkers, feeders, litter, ventilation and heating, noise levels, light requirements, inspection, cleaning, record keeping and surgical interventions. Annex II sets out details of enhanced requirements in respect of higher stocking densities. This involves compliance with stricter documented welfare criteria, in particular technical details of the house and its equipment in terms of ventilation, feeding and watering systems, alarm systems, etc. It also covers production targets, management and monitoring and recording procedures. Under this directive, two stocking rates are proposed, one is 30 kg/m2 and the higher one is 38 kg/m2, as included in the original proposal. Some developments have occurred as discussions progressed to which I will return.
There has been a slight change to annex III since the proposal was made. At that time annex III set out the details for the competent authorities on inspection and the following up of deficiencies. Annex III and annex IV have been changed around. Annex IV, which originally covered the details of monitoring and the following up of deficiencies, is now covered in annex III, while annex IV sets out the details for competent authorities on inspection and the following up of deficiencies in the establishment in cases of higher stocking densities. Annex IV sets out the welfare training requirements for employees in broiler establishments.
This proposal was discussed by numerous Council working groups over several months. My colleague, Mr. Ó Nualláin, has attended meetings of all those Council working groups. The main issues for discussion have been: the harmonisation of controls and enforcement by the competent authority, in particular when the reduction of stocking density is to be used as a sanction; the scope of the directive in terms of the size of flocks, compatibility with marketing rules such as organic farming, free range, etc.; the stocking density levels and possible transitional arrangements for implementing the directive. Suggestions have come to the fore that some parts of the directive should be implemented in advance of other parts of it.
In addition to the Council working group discussions, the Special Committee on Agriculture discussed the impact assessment of the proposal at two meetings, the first in September 2005 and the second, more recently, on 13 March 2006. At the earlier meeting some member states, including some of the main producers, namely, France and the Netherlands, questioned the adequacy of the impact assessment report. Several member states questioned the timing of the proposal, particularly in the light of problems experienced by the industry arising from the threat of avian influenza. They also questioned whether sufficient consideration had been given to some other factors, in particular competition to which the industry is subject from third countries and whether sufficient consideration has been taken of this element at the WTO negotiations. Several member states expressed concern about the timing of the proposal. At the end of that meeting the Presidency indicated it was not its intention to bring the matter to Council for the present.
Technical discussions progressed at working group level and a new revised document — probably the second complete revised document we received — containing possible compromises resulting from discussions to date was produced on 11 April. Discussions are ongoing on the basis of that document. It takes account largely of points that emerged in the discussions and some points were suggested by the European Parliament, which were taken on board by the Commission in the latest version of the document.
The impact of the proposal on Irish industry will depend on what is finally agreed and on its timing. Currently, most producers operate in accordance with Bord Bia's guidelines contained in its quality assurance scheme. They, therefore, work to a stocking rate of 38 kg/m2, as agreed with the industry, IFA, retailers and the Department. That means they would be subject to the enhanced requirements set down in annex II. The information from the industry is that any reduction in that stocking rate would have a negative impact on its competitiveness. The higher stocking rate proposed is 38 kg/m2, which is the same as that contained in Bord Bia's guidelines.
Some concerns were raised about mortality rates, which might pose problems for some operators, and about compliance with standards by producers in smaller farms that slaughter birds at local authority approved plants. The Commission's proposal was that the measure would not apply to flocks of fewer than 100. Various views were put forward at the working group to the effect that this figure should be changed. Figures of 350 and 500 were mentioned.
On the broader issue, we pointed out that from the Irish point of view this industry must operate in a competitive environment and is subject to increasing pressure from third country producers. The higher welfare and environmental standards in place in the Union already have an impact on competitiveness and it would, therefore, appear to be equitable that producers in third countries who export to the EU should be required to operate to standards similar to those which EU producers must maintain.
We have had consultations with the industry. They date back to the time when wider consultations took place in 2003 and 2004. We have also been in touch with the industry following the publication of the draft directive in May last year and, more recently, have kept the industry up to date with the later versions of the documents we received, one in late January or early February and the most recent one I mentioned which we received only last week.