BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Thirteen European Union countries will be told on Thursday that they face legal action for failing to impose an EU ban on keeping egg-laying hens in battery cages by a January 1 deadline, an EU document showed.
The European Commission will send a letter of formal notice to countries including France, Spain and Poland, which is the first step in lengthy EU legal proceedings that can lead to the imposition of daily fines on countries, the document showed.
The EU agreed the ban on battery cages in 1999, but Commission data from April 2011 showed that more than a third of laying hens in Europe were still being kept in non-compliant cages.
In October, EU consumer affairs chief John Dalli said a ban on the sale of eggs from battery chickens to consumers would apply from January 1 as planned, and promised legal action against countries that failed to end the use of battery cages.
But Dalli said producers would still be free to sell non-compliant eggs to industrial processors - but not retailers - in their own countries.
The other countries facing legal action are Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania.
Britain, where politicians and farmers' groups have urged the EU to take a tough line against non-compliance with the ban, could itself face legal action after the latest compliance data revealed some producers there had also missed the deadline.
If confirmed, a letter of formal notice will be sent to the British authorities at a later date, as the latest figures were not available in time for Thursday's infringement package, an EU source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Charlie Dunmore, editing by William Hardy)