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Don't get left with egg on your face

From 1 January 2012 egg production across the EU will undergo a massive change as conventional battery cages are banned and replaced by new, more animal welfare-friendly ‘enriched’ cages

HensThe EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive makes it illegal to produce eggs from conventional battery cages after 31 December 2011 and the EU egg industry is involved in a race against time to ensure that the Directive is fully implemented. Cage production currently accounts for around two thirds of egg production in the EU (approximately 50% in the UK).

Over the past five years, British egg producers have already spent in excess of £400m converting many of their cage units to new, enriched colony cages and will meet the deadline to provide legally compliant eggs to their customers from 1 January 2012. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many producers in other EU countries.

Despite having had more than 10 years to meet the Directive’s requirements, it is estimated that more than one-third of hens currently housed in conventional cages across the EU will not be in either enriched cages or non-cage systems when the deadline passes. The main culprits are likely to be Poland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, France and the Czech Republic. By contrast, all of Sweden, Germany, Luxemburg and Austria’s hens are already out of battery cages well ahead of the ban.

The clock is ticking

British Lion Eggs logoCurrently around 13% of the UK’s shell eggs and more than 30% of egg products are imported. There is real concern that many of these imports will not meet the required standards after 1 January 2012 meaning a potential dearth of eggs.

With it being only a matter of months until the Directive is implemented, the UK egg industry is urging caterers to act now to ensure that they are able to source legally compliant eggs and egg products after the end of the year. Suppliers need to know now that there will potentially be an increased demand for British Lion eggs in 2012 – it takes 16 weeks for an egg to become a chick then a laying hen.

“It is essential that customers ensure that the eggs and egg products they are using come from legal systems,” insists Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union. “One way this can be achieved is by purchasing Lion eggs and egg products. These will have been produced in the UK in enriched cage, or non-cage, systems rather than elsewhere to inferior welfare standards.”

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Battery HensBattery Cages

A battery cage in the UK typically holds four or five hens with a legal space allowance per bird of less than an A4 sheet of paper. Hens in battery cages are unable to perform a range of natural behaviours including nesting, perching, dust-bathing and scratching for food and they cannot stretch their wings properly.

(Image courtesy of Compassion in World Farming)

Enriched Cages

Enriched hen cage

Enriched cages have more height (a minimum of 45cm) and space (750cm² per hen compared to 550cm² for battery cages) as well as providing a perch, scratching area and a nest box, which allows hens more freedom to express natural behaviours.

  • The UK is the sixth largest egg producing country in the EU.
  • UK consumers eat more than 11 billion eggs a year; approximately 30 million eggs a day. Average consumption is two to three per week.
  • 46% of eggs in the UK are sold through retailers, 30% to caterers and 24% are processed to make products for food manufacturers.
  • More than 85% of UK shell eggs are produced to the standards of the Lion Quality Code of Practice.
  • Approximately 45% of eggs produced in the UK are free range (of which about 3.5% are organic), around 50% are from caged hens and 5% from barn production.

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