Detailed proposals for a ban on veal crates were cleared by the European Commission yesterday but face tough French-led opposition when they go before agriculture ministers for approval next month.
Brussels officials fear that with Italy, one of the big veal-producing nations, holding the EU presidency until July, agreement could be stalled until the autumn.
Animal rights groups have already complained that the proposals do not go far enough fast enough, but yesterday's agreement nevertheless represents a breakthrough for campaigners. British protesters have waged the most relentless campaign, disrupting the live export trade to highlight the treatment of calves shipped to France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The EU Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, who drafted the plan, has had to bow to producer lobbying with a 10-year transition period, but is emerging as more sympathetic to animal welfare concerns than any of his predecessors.
The Commission yesterday confirmed the approach outlined last month, which calls for a ban on new crates from January 1998. Farmers who are already using crates will have until 2008 to switch to loose housing.
The Commission warned it will soon issue new rules forcing producers to vary calves' diet; milk feed used to guarantee white meat will have to be supplemented with iron.
Yesterday Mr Fischler explained the 10-year delay as striking a balance between campaigners' demands and stability in the markets. However, the fate of the proposals depends on the extent to which France, the biggest veal producer, can muster support in the Council of Ministers. Italy may seek a compromise if producers can be promised compensation.Reuse content