Animal Welfare in the Egg Production

Legislating towards the end of cages

 

We cooperate with public administrations in promoting food in line with the social components of the Agenda 2030, European Green Pact and Farm to Fork Strategy frameworks, integrating animal welfare into the food value chain, and encouraging structural changes in production and consumption patterns.

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Over the past twenty-five years, the European Union and its member nations have increasingly worked to address the issue of the treatment of animals raised for food, enacting policies to prohibit certain industrial farming practices that caused severe, prolonged and preventable animal suffering. A central focus in this area for the EU and certain member nations has been ending the use of cages that restrict animals from engaging in even the most basic natural behaviours.

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In regards to egg-laying hens, in addition to the serious animal welfare problems caused by caged confinement, the EU has looked extensively at the human health risks caused by such practices. An exhaustive 2007 report by the European Food Safety Authority’s Task Force on Zooneses, which examined data from over 5,000 laying houses across 25 countries, found that farms which confined hens in cages had dramatically higher risks of certain strains of salmonella. Similarly, a 2019 report by the European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Biological Hazards concluded that the shift toward cage-free eggs in Europe has successfully resulted in lower rates of salmonella contamination on farms and lower rates of salmonella poisoning in consumers.

 

The majority of eggs produced in the EU are now produced in cage-free or free-range systems, and the percentage of eggs produced in such systems has been increasing significantly year over year. This shift has generated strong improvements in animal welfare and better protection of public health. The shift has been driven in part by legislative policy, in part by increasing consumer concern, and also in significant part by action on the part of leading food companies.

 

Accordingly, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution on the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) "End the Cage Age" (“Poner fin a la era de las jaulas”) with an overwhelming majority. This resolution has been ratified by the European Commission which has proposed to "present a legislative proposal by the end of 2023 to phase out and definitively ban the use of cages for all the species and categories mentioned in the initiative", including laying hens, with a deadline of 2027. In addition, the resolution stresses the need to provide adequate incentives and financial programs to support farmers in the transition to cage-free systems.

 

In Spain, large distribution companies are reaching commitments on the cessation of the sale of eggs produced by cage-free hens in the medium term, which will mean that the process of conversion to alternative systems will be accelerated. Thus, in the period 2020-2025, 63% of the total distribution will give up the sale of eggs from caged hens. Following the business commitments obtained during 2021, around 70% of the sector will make this change before the end of 2025. Lidl, Aldi, Condis, Ahorramás have already definitively withdrawn from the marketing of code 3 (eggs from caged hens) in their stores. These companies will be joined by Mercadona, El Corte Inglés, Carrefour, Auchan and Eroski, with the commitment to also abandon them by 2023-2025.

 

It is necessary a commitment from the Administration in accordance with the efforts that both producers and distributors are making so that egg production in Spain does not lag behind compared to other EU member countries.

Progress Made

However, the census of hens in alternative systems in Spain is still far from the European Union average, since it only reaches 23% of the total census, when in the EU as a whole it stands at 50%.

 

On May 10, 2021, the Balearic Parliament approved the bill by which public canteens in the region will only be supplied with eggs from free-range hens.

The initiative is aligned with European sustainability strategies and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which advocate sustainability, food security and rural development. Animal welfare is also an integral part of the measure.

70% of the retail market has already committed to stop marketing eggs from caged hens. In this way, the Administration of the Balearic Islands is taking a step in the same direction that large supermarkets and food companies are already taking.

Equalia is also promoting this initiative in other Spanish regions, such as the Region of Murcia, Navarra, Community of Valencia and Baleares. In the latter two communities, the proposal has already been approved by a large majority.

Help us to continue building a fairer and more sustainable food system

European welfare legislation for food animals stipulates that "an animal's freedom of movement must not be restricted in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering". It also states that "where an animal is continuously or regularly confined, it must be provided with appropriate space for its psychological and ethological needs, in accordance with accumulated experience and scientific knowledge".

European Convention for the Protection of Animals intended for Consumption

"Eggs produced in systems that demonstrate improved animal welfare have an added value, and are therefore of higher quality”.

María Villaluenga, press officer and spokesperson for Equalia