More than half of the eggs produced in the UK last year came from hens not housed in cages, it has been revealed.
Figures from Defra show that for the first time more eggs came from barn, free range or organic hens than from those housed in cage systems, with 51 per cent having been produced via cage-free systems.
The statistics mark a massive sea change in British farming culture. In 1995 just 14 per cent of eggs were laid by uncaged hens.
The news comes after the UK official banned old-style battery hen cages at the start of the year, with farmers instead using so-called enriched colony systems.
Animal welfare charity the RSPCA welcomed the news. Alice Clark, a senior scientist with its farm animals team saying: “It is really great news that for the first time more than half the eggs produced in the UK were laid by hens kept in barn, free-range or organic systems.
“Every time a shopper buys a box of Freedom Food, barn, free-range or organic eggs, they are sending a strong message that they care about animal welfare and don’t want hens kept in cages.”
The subject of eggs is currently a highly contentious one for British farmers, who are currently very worries that they will be undercut by cheap and inhumanely produced foreign eggs.
Britain complied early with the European Union-wide ban on battery hen cages but many other member states, among them Spain and Italy, have failed to phase them out, leading British producers to worry that retailers will choose to sell foreign eggs rather than their own.
The coalition Government has ruled out a ban on importing battery hen eggs with a voluntary agreement having been made by most of the country’s leading food retailers and processors not to stock them.
Earlier in the year the National Farmers’ Union published a list of all retailer and processors who had made the pledge.
However the RSPCA said it was yet to be convinced that hens should be kept in cages, pointing to recent research which it claims reveals 61 per cent of people in England and Wales in favour of having cages should be banned.
The RSPCA believes that the growth in non-cage production is due to:
Compulsory egg labelling introduced in 2004 so boxes of whole eggs have to be labelled with the method of production such as “eggs from caged hens” or “free-range”.
Increased public awareness and concern about the suffering of hens kept in cages
Some major supermarkets no longer stocking cage eggs and using cage-free eggs as ingredients in their own-brand products
Some major food manufacturers and restaurant chains switching to cage-free eggs in their products
This week a advertising campaign was launched in the United States to ban cage systems there too, paid for by the Humane Society of the United States.
Meanwhile a new campaign was also launched this week to encourage people to cook more with eggs. The British Egg Information Service launched its Think Outside the Box campaign featuring recipes from the likes of Annabel Karmel, Jun Tanaka, Paul Merrett and Sophie Wright.
Visit www.eggrecipes.co.uk/thinkoutsidethebox for more information.