16 August 2018 | Online since 2003

1 November 2016

Documents seized in stocking density crackdown

Government agencies have launched a crackdown on overstocking, seizing documents from pullet rearers during unannounced inspections and, the Ranger understands, pursuing legal action against at least one egg producer.

Defra officials have previously issued warnings to egg producers to avoid the temptation of ordering more birds than allowed under Government rules. In 2012 the then Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) said that farmers breaking the rules could face prosecution if they ignored warnings. It seems that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) – the successor to AHVLA – is now getting tough, demanding sales records from pullet rearers and taking legal action.

An APHA spokesman refused to comment on ongoing operations. “We are unable to comment on any ongoing legal action,” he told the Ranger. However, he said, “The requirements relating to the stocking densities within egg laying units are set out in the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) & (Wales) Regulations 2007.

“APHA veterinary and technical staff are responsible for compliance inspections and enforcement of these regulations across England and Wales. Where non-compliance is identified, APHA staff will take appropriate action to address any breaches under these regulations.” The Ranger understands that APHA has carried out operations at a number of pullet rearers’ premises. They have arrived unannounced and demanded to see records of pullet sales. Rearers we have spoken to say they were told that APHA had a legal right to see records dating back two years.

One rearer told us that when he raised the issue of customer confidentiality, he was told he could remove the price the customer had paid for the pullets but that he inspectors wanted to see the documents showing the number of pullets that each producer had bought.

APHA inspectors have told rearers that they had a right under law to see the records and that, if necessary, they would be prepared to involve police officers to enforce that right.

In 2012 Tony Potter, then with AHVLA now with APHA, wrote to both the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) and the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) warning about overstocking. He asked the two organisations to warn its members to stick to permitted stocking rates or face enforcement action.

He said there had been a report that some pullet rearers had allegedly been encouraging producers to take on extra birds despite the stocking limits. “I felt it important to bring to your attention a new rumour circulating (particularly, it seems, in the free range world),” he said. “A producer has reported that he and others are being encouraged to take on more birds by their rearers (or suppliers of replacement birds), when they re-populate their flocks. I am aware of the industry reports of increased numbers of hens being reared and of rearers seeking part payment in advance of delivery etc – this suggestive of an oversupply situation which may add some credibility to this rumour.”

He said, “I should, therefore, be grateful if, through your connections to your respective memberships, (and through your auditors) that you make clear what the legal stocking densities/rates are. There has been a tremendous effort by all producers to comply with both the cage ban and the stocking density requirements which came in on 1 January 12. It would be a great shame to move away from this position of compliance,” he said.

It was on January 1, 2012 that the rules on internal stocking density changed for longstanding producers. A European Union directive was introduced on August 3, 1999 reducing the stocking rate for free range egg producers from 11.7 hens per square metre to nine hens per square metre. New producers were required to stock at the new density immediately, but the EU allowed a derogation to give existing producers time to switch over to the updated regulations. They were allowed to continue stocking at 11.7 hens per square metre. That derogation came to an end in December 2011. The EU limits external stocking density to 2,500 birds per hectare, although the Lion code limits external stocking density to 2,000 birds per hectare.

In 2013 there was another warning about overstocking, this time from the Environment Agency. It wrote to the NFU and BEIC to say, “Poultry sites with places for more than 40,000 birds require an environmental permit from the Environment Agency in order to operate legally. It has come to light in a number of prosecution cases that companies have supplied more than 40,000 birds to poultry sites that did not have a permit.” It warned that companies supplying more than 40,000 birds to an unpermitted site could be committing an offence under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. It said that pullet rearers could be deemed to be knowingly causing the operation of a regulated facility without a permit.

The Ranger understands that, following its recent operations, APHA is alleged to have found one egg producer with 2,000 birds more than he should have on a 16,000-bird unit. APHA has refused to comment on proceedings but we understand that it is pressing ahead with prosecution.

BFREPA chief executive Robert Gooch has warned that free range producers should ensure that they remain within the rules when ordering pullets. “It is important for the image of the industry that we follow not only the rules set down in legislation but also the rules of the accreditation schemes. Otherwise it gives consumers a right to be concerned about the standards of free range.”

APHA officials are not only able to obtain evidence from pullet rearers’ sales records. They are also able to investigate information on BEIC Lion passports and animal transport certificates. A BEIC passport will show the number of birds that should be housed; a transport certificate will provide evidence of the number delivered.


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