24 November 2017 | Online since 2003

12 July 2017

APHA responds to overstocking concerns


The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has responded to egg producers' concerns and questions about enforcement following a drive to crack down on overstocking on British layer units.

APHA launched a campaign against breaches of stocking rules towards the end of last year, after previously issuing warnings to the industry in earlier years. Some 60 per cent of egg production units checked by inspectors have been found to be overstocked. Legal action was pursued against at least one producer - John Edward Morgan of Gorse Farm, Llandridod Wells in Powys - who was handed an 18-month suspended prison sentence when he pleaded guilty to fraud for overstocking.

Other producers have found that inspectors are now demanding rigorous compliance, but some producers who have spoken to the Ranger have sought guidance on some requirements and raised concerns that rules may be being enforced differently by different inspectors. An APHA spokesman said the agency was working hard to ensure that requirements were applied consistently. "Consistency of advice, guidance and inspection visits is a high priority for Defra and APHA," he said. "We have clear and consistent written instructions for inspectors. We have recently held a training event for all inspectors and have appointed two Government technical advisors to ensure this consistency across England and Wales."

Some producers have found that sheds previously inspected and approved for a certain number of birds have had their capacity reduced during more recent inspections. Trevor Sellers, who farms in Oakham in Leicestershire and who sits on the council of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA), was one producer who was caught out inadvertently when inspectors re-measured his shed and decided it was slightly smaller than previous inspectors had calculated.

The APHA spokesman insisted that the criteria for assessing the capacity of layer units had not changed. But he said, "Since carrying out these investigations we have now developed a more consistent approach to shed measuring, which is being implemented to ensure fairness to all customers across England and Wales."

Trevor Sellers warned Ranger readers earlier this year that inspectors were being tough in their approach to overstocking. "Producers need to be warned that the inspectors are accepting absolutely no margin of error," he said. "You only need to be one bird over. Pullet rearers have usually allowed for a small margin over but that will have to stop. It's very draconian. Producers will need to be very careful in future." He said he had been told he needed to keep a record of gate sales, although some producers have questioned what they will need to show inspectors. Producers are also expected to record broken eggs.

The APHA spoken said that requirements for recording were laid down in an EU regulation. The regulation states that producers must record the farming method, the date of placing, age at placing and number of laying hens; the date of culling and the number of hens culled; daily egg production; the number and/or weight of eggs sold per day or delivered daily by other means; as well as the names and addresses of purchasers.

The spokesman confirmed that producers needed to keep records of broken eggs. However, he said, "We recognise that there may be circumstances where it may not be possible to do so. For example, there may be occasions when eggs are laid on the floor of the shed or on the slats which are smashed before collection and so cannot be recorded," he said.

Some producers have asked at what point overstocking is deemed to have occurred - when the pullets arrive on farm or when the birds start laying eggs. The spokesman said the rules applied to laying hens. The definition of a laying hen in the legislation was 'Hens of the species Gallus gallus, which have reached laying maturity and are kept for production of eggs not intended for hatching.'

Another producer asked whether such things as feed trackers could affect the number of birds allowed in a shed. The spokesman said there were a number of limiting factors within layer units. He said they were laid down in article 4 of an EU directive. Details could be obtained at COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 1999/74/EC.

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