New report aims at higher welfare cage-free egg production in the EU

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20 years after the EU adopted a ban on ‘battery cages’, driven by consumer demand and evolving societal expectations, the EU, Member States and producers have to prepare for a successful transition to cage-free egg production. To accompany this process and ensure it delivers optimal welfare for laying hens, Eurogroup for Animals presents recommendations based on  latest science- and evidence-based research at a political event today, bringing together the EU’s main stakeholders.

When the EU adopted its ban on conventional (“barren”) battery cages for laying hens, after fierce campaigning from animal advocates, the egg industry managed to contain the changes for the sector by limiting the law’s requirement to replacing cages with another type of cage, the so-called “enriched” cage. The sector also obtained a 13-year long phase-out period before the ban actually entered into force in 2012. Eggs from caged systems still make up more than half of the EU production today (53% of the total, involving approximately 210.5 million hens) but as consumers are being made more aware of the poor welfare resulting from such production, caged eggs are becoming increasingly unpopular.

Thanks to successful international campaigns, major retailers and global food businesses have already announced they will phase out caged eggs from their supply chains by 2025, and more commitments are being published by the day. Additionally, under pressure from animal advocacy organisations several EU Member States and regions (Austria, Germany, Wallonia, and the Netherlands with the exception of colony cages) are now moving on to ban cages from egg production at national level, and more countries are likely to follow suit. A recently launched European Citizens Initiative to ban all forms of cages on european farms is likely to formalise citizens’ demand for a change in the EU’s laying hen legislation in this respect.

To accompany policy makers and producers in this welcome but delicate transition, Eurogroup for Animals has launched a science- and evidence-based guidance document presenting good animal welfare practices in cage-free egg production systems. Produced in collaboration with AgraCEAS Consulting and drawing on animal charities’ scientific and practical expertise, the document  aims to offer an initial but comprehensive set of recommendations to ensure cage-free systems deliver higher animal welfare.

Such recommendations include the importance of providing a choice of environments, including outdoor runs or covered verandas, and enrichments that stimulate the expression of positive and natural behaviours and that can help avoid mutilations; good practices on perch and nest box design that can have very positive effects on laying hen health and welfare; and, last but not least, good management practices that can promote better animal health and prevent injuries and disease, and that are essential for the welfare of laying hens throughout their lives

Mr. Wurzer, Chief Executive of the Austrian Poultry Federation welcomed the publication of Eurogroup for Animals’ guidance document by emphasizing that “having good technical guidance to help producers in the transition towards good cage-free systems as well as clear product declarations are very important to make the sector more resilient to change as well as economically viable”. The document also presents concrete ideas that can make producers fit for the future so that they are enabled to keep up with evolving societal demands for a more humane treatment of farmed animals.

Eurogroup for Animals firmly believes that, at this crucial moment in time, the animal advocacy  movement must be proactive in accompanying policy makers and producers in the move towards cage-free systems, and that animal welfare should be put at the core of this transition.

Working together to improve welfare is also proving to be an extremely sound and successful business strategy, as shown by the example of Ruud Zanders, co-founder of Kipster, an innovative 3-star ‘Beter Leven’ certified egg farm: “for us the continued cooperation with animal welfare and environmental NGOs has been and continues to be fundamental. We not only want to accommodate societal expectations and the highest environmental standards, but we want to be able to anticipate change, constantly improve and be an example in the world”  

Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals commented “Because it is primarily driven by animal welfare considerations and not just economic interests, the shift away from cages to cage-free systems in European egg production is revolutionary. We must however ensure that what we achieve for animals in the EU is not simultaneously undermined by cheap imports from countries operating far below EU animal welfare standards and practices. The next step will be to ensure fair competition between EU and non-EU products, by imposing that imported animal products comply with EU standards and practices”.

Sophie De Jonckheere, Communications and Development Manager,
Dr. Elena Nalon, Farm Animals Veterinary Adviser,

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