Labour's promise to ban the battery farming of hens is set to be dropped, according to a leaked Whitehall letter.
Ministers had planned to outlaw the practice, which sees egg-laying birds confined to tiny cages, by 2012. In an 'outrageous' U-turn officials have written to other European governments, which were also due to stop battery farming under an EU directive, saying the ban should not be enforced.
The tiny battery cages prevent birds from performing natural activities such as foraging and nesting, they can barely turn and drop faeces on cages below. Hens routinely have the tips of their beaks sheared off with a hot wire to prevent the frustrated animal pecking each other. Animal rights campaigners have accused the Government of scaremongering tactics and say reneging on the ban will condemn millions of hens to misery.
The secret plan to renege on the ban is contained in a leaked letter from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Senior official Richard Jones writes that the economic downturn has prevented farmers converting their buildings and argues a ban 'may severely damage the EU industry by causing a massive shortage of eggs'.
Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, said the move would reward farmers who have dragged their feet in phasing out the cruel practice. The CIWF's Peter Stevenson added: 'The whole idea they have not had enough time to prepare for these changes is just outrageous. 'It is nothing other than scare mongering to claim there will be a shortage of eggs.'
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