In the UK and EU, the cage-free movement is driven by activists who take advantage of consumers’ lack of understanding of barn production.
Activist pressure is pushing European and UK poultry production away from fortified cages, but the global egg market remains relatively unchanged.
“Let’s Talk Cage-Free Production,” Andrew Joret, President of the British Egg Industry Council, said at the Elanco webinar, saying that free-range egg production has increased by around 17% to 60% over the last decade with the increase from enriched cages. Egg consumption was 202 eggs/person/year – below the EU average – 92% of the industry is self-sufficient and 84% of imports come from egg products.
The EU situation is somewhat different – 50% are enriched cages with a large barn sector (34%) due to Germany and the Netherlands, and a larger organic percentage (6%), predominantly from Scandinavia. Globally, the market breakdown shows that the cage sector dominates the industry with 84% of eggs produced from conventional cages, 12.4% of eggs produced from barns and free range of only 3.4%. This figure is even higher in Latin America (91.5%) and Asia (89.5%), while it is lower in less industrialized Africa (60.7%).
Timeline for free range
The uncaged challenge is whether it’s driven by consumers or activist pressure, Joret says. In the UK and EU this is driven by activists who exploit the lack of consumer understanding of barn production. Timelines for the transition to free-range production differ around the world. The UK has committed to ending fortified cage production by the end of 2025, but this is not binding and the EU exit process is expected to begin in earnest from 2027. In some parts of the world there may be no change at all. argued.
Carbon footprint of eggs
Jret addressed the environmental footprint of eggs, citing a World Resources Institute report that showed eggs are a low-climatic source of protein, particularly in standard cages. There is a battle between animal welfare and climate change and environmental concern.
The challenges facing UK industry are in 3 main areas
- Investment cost and longevity
- NGO adoption of barn systems
- Future market demand changes
- Cost of £25 per bird area as industry shifts from cages to enriched cages, or £400m
- Converting enriched cages to barns costs approximately £20/bird space – hence the multi-million cost similar to modifications.
- Cultivation investment is also required
Animal welfare campaigners:
Joret said animal welfare campaigners such as Compassion in World Farming are very against combi cages and their dense nature. That’s why the industry talked to Compass to adopt a Lion stable standard, and with the agreement:
- No herd size limit
- Maximum 16.5 birds per square meter (0.67 sq ft per bird) on ground floor in multi-story homes
- Maximum of 9 birds per square meter of usable area under EU Directive (1.2 square feet per bird)
- A maximum of 3 floors above ground level is allowed.
This meant that poultry producers had to reshape enriched cage houses with a loss of capacity of around 30% compared to enriched cages.
When we have birds in fortified cages, the birds generally do very well, but if you try to age a free-range farm more than once, it can be disastrous.
A practical consideration is bird performance uncertainty – “there’s no doubt that you get the best performance with a single age, all-in-one, all-inclusive system, but when you have large farms, you tend to have different homes for different ages. When we have birds in enriched cages, the birds it usually performs very well, but if you try to age a free-range farm more than once, it can be a disaster.” This can lay 30-40 eggs per bird on farms, but there is not enough experience how barn birds will perform on very old farms.
Dr Deborah Temple, European Expert in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, agreed that the consumer perception of animal welfare in laying hens is generally negative. This led the European Commission to support the phasing out of cages for livestock. Dr Temple said there is a shift in animal welfare science to foster positive experiences that go beyond the 5 freedoms to concentrate on positive emotions in a stimulant-rich and safe environment.
Well-being must start in the hatchery
Good health is essential to good well-being and the behavior of animals is closely related to their well-being and must begin in the hatchery. Areas to consider include chick care, beak treatment, embryo sexing, post-emergence early feeding and chick transport. On-farm issues include chicken behavior and user space where birds must forage, nest, perch, and dust-bath, but failing to express this behavior can have negative consequences, including a chronic stress response, leading to poor performance and suffering. .