The European Commission is taking legal action against 14 EU member states that it thinks are failing to comply with new laws banning the keeping of hens in battery cages.

According to Brussels, the countries have failed to comply with EU legislation that prohibits farmers from keeping egg-laying hens in confined, tiny cages smaller than 750 square centimetres. 

Brussels has claimed countries including France, Spain and the Netherlands are breaching the law, which went into on 1 January. The Commission has released a report that says 51m hens could be confined in illegal cages across the EU. 

"We are launching infringement procedures against all the member states that are non-compliant and these will start in a few days," EU health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli said. 

The warning came as he released an EU strategy on animal welfare, which could further toughen standards.