Pushing for stronger laws to protect laying hens
Barren, conventional cages have been banned throughout Europe, since the beginning of 2012, which is a step forward for hen welfare. However, a so-called ‘enriched’ variation of the battery cage is permitted, which we still do not believe provides for the full behavioural and physical needs of the birds. We take every opportunity to stress the need to ban all cages, and the advantages of keeping hens in well-managed higher welfare systems - barn and free-range. For example, in 2002, we submitted a detailed consultation response to the government department Defra, highlighting the urgent need to ban all cages and in 2010 communicated our position when providing evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee at the House of Commons.
In 2005, we produced a report titled The Case Against Cages (PDF 0.51MB). This report explains the different egg production systems and the need for all cages to be banned and replaced with suitable alternative systems. It also contains economic research we commissioned on the financial impact on producers, showing that the costs of some higher welfare systems are often not much different to those for meeting the increased requirements for battery cages (the ‘enriched’ battery cages) as set out in legislation put into force in 2012.
Further research we commissioned (Coming of Age RSPCA report (PDF 0.80MB)), showed that most UK cage egg producers would have needed to invest in new facilities by 2012, when the legal requirements for cage design was changed. In the report we therefore urge producers to invest in free-range or barn systems, rather than converting cages.
The Society was very disappointed, that when the law changed on 1 January 2012, 14 European countries were found to still be keeping millions of hens in illegal barren battery cages. The RSPCA has been working closely with the UK industry to try to ensure that no eggs produced in such cages are imported into the UK, so that shoppers don’t unwittingly buy them, and to clearly show those non-compliant producers that continued use of illegal barren cages is entirely unacceptable.
Developing RSPCA welfare standards
We have developed detailed RSPCA welfare standards for laying hens, which contain hundreds of requirements to ensure that higher standards of animal welfare are met at all stages of the hens’ lives - including how they are hatched, kept, transported and humanely slaughtered/killed. The standards do not allow hens to be kept in cages, and are much more detailed and strict than minimum legal requirements.
The vast majority of free-range and barn eggs in the UK come from hens inspected to these standards through the Freedom Food scheme.
Using scientific research to improve laying hen welfare
As part of improving laying hen welfare, and to help develop the RSPCA welfare standards, we are sometimes able to commission scientific research. Scientific evidence is very important when we are trying to find practical solutions to laying hen welfare problems, which are sometimes very complex. Further information about our current laying hen welfare projects is available in our Science Group area.
For many years we have campaigned to have eggs from caged hens clearly labelled to allow consumers to make an informed choice about which production system they support when they buy eggs.
Since 2004 the law has required all eggs and egg boxes to be labelled according to the method of production – either eggs from caged hens, barn, free-range or organic. We urge retailers to make sure that their labelling is clear, and that all products containing eggs as ingredients are also labelled as eggs from free-range, barn, organic or caged hens.
If you’re concerned about laying hen welfare, you may like to know more about how you can help.