A temporary reprieve could be on the cards for egg producers who have not changed their housing arrangements for poultry flocks to comply with EU directives.
Up to 10 farmers across the country could be forced to cull hundreds of thousands of hens this week after the Department of Agriculture informed them they cannot sell eggs from their farms as 'table eggs'.
Ireland is among 14 EU member states which have not fully complied with a directive issued back in 1999 to phase out so-called battery cages to house hens and replace them with 'enriched' cages. The use of the small-wire battery cages has been deemed illegal since January 1.
However, Ireland West MEP, Marian Harkin, claimed the EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, had indicated at a recent meeting that he would consider allowing eggs from these farms to be sold to the catering sector as an interim solution to the problem.
The meeting took place before Christmas between Commissioner Dalli and a number of MEPs from the ALDE Group (Liberals and Democrats), including Ms Harkin.
Ms Harkin said her "best recollection" from the meeting was that Commissioner Dalli was open to such an interim solution and for a given period.
She said Department officials should get on to the Commission to find out if such an offer was available.
Alo Mohan from the IFA poultry committee said farmers should be allowed to take eggs from their current crop of birds until they saw out their productive life.
"These are not machines, they're livestock and they have a life cycle. Let's use a bit of common sense here and let the birds see out their natural lives," Mr Mohan said.
While Mr Mohan accepted the housing changes had been well flagged, he said many farmers could not afford to comply with the EU directive.
"This has been devastating for farmers, some of them have been in egg production for 40 years," Mr Mohan said.
He said some farmers who looked for 15 to 20-year loans to bring their housing into line with the EU directive sought an assurance from the Commission that the housing regulations would not be changed again, but the Commission wouldn't give them one. Grant aid of about €30 per bird was available to update houses, but Mr Mohan said that this wasn't enough for some farmers as it would cost more than €1m to buy and install new larger cages.
Under the new EU directive egg producers must use the larger, modified cages equipped with perches and litter that allow hens room to roost, nest and scratch.
The directive has been ignored by many Eastern European countries but Commissioner Dalli has come under pressure to enforce it from German and Austrian producers who have invested heavily to meet the new standards.