The barren battery cage ban, widely lauded as the first EU law specifically designed to improve farm animal welfare, is being undermined after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) failed to fine Greece for openly defying the ban for more than two years.
The ruling, which holds the Greek government responsible for failing to enforce the ban agreed in 1999 with more than a decade’s changeover period, echoes the case of Italy earlier this year.
The judgement is to be welcomed, as Greece now joins Italy on the list of countries officially sanctioned under EU law for failing to take hens out of miserable barren battery cages.
But the ECJ’s order to the Greek government to pay costs and nothing else is the equivalent of being put on the naughty step and is a blow to campaigners like us, consumers who demand higher welfare and the farmers in those countries who made the change.
By seemingly only giving the Greek government a light slap on the wrist, the ECJ undermines the system. Some looking at the ruling will no doubt wonder what the point is in adhering to the law if others can break it with what amounts to impunity.
Under EU rules, the ECJ may still impose a fine on Greece. As we’ve argued above, we think that the ECJ should use far stricter sanctions as a way to deter countries from breaking the rules, extending the suffering of potentially millions of animals.
The best outcome now would be for the Greek government to do what it has failed to do so far, and that is to make a concerted effort to rid the country of barren battery cages, as it was bound to do by law by 1 January 2012.
That would be fairer to hens, consumers and farmers who have abided by the ban alike.