/ Food & Drink

Eggs of 2012 – batteries not included

Chicken outside

Did you know that from next year, cages for egg-laying hens will be no more? It’s a great step forward for animal welfare, but what about the many chickens raised for meat that are still facing appalling conditions?

What eggs do you buy – free range, barn, or caged?

According to the stats it’s an increasingly easy question to answer, with 73% of us claiming to eat free range eggs according to a Mintel report last year.

That’s a high figure, particularly given that 53% of all eggs produced are still battery eggs. But things are about to change.

Unlock the cages

A new piece of European legislation means that cages for egg-laying hens will be phased out by January 2012, guaranteeing a happy new year for some of Europe’s chickens.

This is a significant shift from the current European law, which requires a minimum space of roughly one A4 sheet of paper. It will improve the lives of around 250 million egg-laying hens across the EU.

Why eggs and not meat?

Welfare issues are clearly creeping up the agenda for consumers – but why eggs? An estimated 70% of chickens raised for meat are raised in industrial farming conditions.

Under a 2007 directive, 19 birds being raised for meat are allowed per square metre. While that’s better than being in a cage, it’s still not a lot of space, and arguably even less than the A4 sheet given to battery hens.

And yet, according to Mintel, more people buy ‘standard’ chicken than free range. And, I’d hazard to say you’d probably find similar figures with people buying pork and beef.

This is partly an awareness issue, but there’s also a huge price factor. Eggs are cheaper than chickens, so while the percentage increase in price you pay for free range may be similar, the actual dent in your pocket will be bigger when you buy a free range chicken.

So what do you do? Do you buy free range eggs, but what about chicken, milk and other meat? Is it still too expensive to take welfare into account across the entire food chain?


To me it is simple – the only meat I can now afford is chicken – The cheapest chicken. Lamb beef and pork are far too expensive..

If the government raised my pension BACK to the level (or buying power) it was BEFORE Thatcher removed the link to Average Earnings – (around 40% reduction so far and likely to get worse) – It would be different.

But it is not – I have a choice – buy cheap chicken or go without.

I would love to support better conditions for meat chickens – but not at the expense of starvation – If you doubt it ask an OAP on standard single state pension.

There is no such person as “an OAP on standard single state pension” — Pension Credit is available to all and tops-up total income to a level well above the “standard single state pension”.

To suggest that a pensioner’s choice is between “starvation” and eating free-range chicken is crass in the extreme.

This is such good news – of course no eggs should come from hens in cages. In an ideal world, all would be free range – we’re edging closer with this move.

I’m quite fussy about any animal by-product, so try to buy free range or organic wherever I can. Having been a vegetarian for years when I was younger, I don’t miss meat, so prefer to buy expensive and occasionally. Saying that, I’m incredibly frugal with it – a whole chicken might cost us £8 but it lasts us about 3-4 meals by the time I’ve made stock etc.

Having watched all the campaigns Hugh F-W was doing on this subject I do think more needs to be done to regulate the meat industry. As Richard points out, not everyone can afford to be ethical, so we should be able to rely on minimum standards when we’re buying.

Sophie Gilbert says:
11 February 2011

If meat from chicken raised in appalling conditions were the only meat available I would go without.

You have never been hungry – I have

I’ve eaten rotten road kill

I think You’d only go hungry if there were a great deal of nice alternatives

Sophie Gilbert says:
11 February 2011

I thought it was obvious that I was not talking from the position of being in dire circumstances (although you know nothing about my life and your remarks are purely conjectural). In the face of adversity, which computer, kettle or electricity provider would become irrelevant, wouldn’t it?

My grand-father used to say to us his grand-children that if we had been prisoners of war like him we would have eaten every last grain of rice on our plates (and presumably gobbled rat meat and been grateful for it). Too right, and perhaps in spite of appearances or the ease with which one can jump to conclusions, I haven’t forgotten my grand-father’s words. In my current circumstances, however, because I do have a choice, I would rather do without battery chicken meat and become vegetarian tomorrow if battery chicken meat became the only meat available.

Having said that, a vegetarian friend of mine came back from the former Yugoslavia a few years ago after volunteering there a few months, and he came back humbled by the experience, including the moment when he told locals he was working with that he was a vegetarian and they replied that they simply ate what they could. I haven’t forgotten his story either.

Sorry – As I said I assumed that you had made a statement from a position of plenty – and a position of good alternatives. – You admitted it.

As an OAP I cannot afford not to eat battery chicken. And I know from experience what levels of deprivation cause a change of heart.

The only time I would not eat battery chicken is if I could afford not to – and I can’t.

I’m incredibly happy (and surprised) that battery eggs are being outlawed. Though I can understand that the price difference between free range eggs and battery eggs are in the pence, whereas with meat it’s in the pounds. But in the end, if there’d be no choice that we have to buy free range meat, we’d find the money to buy it (or just eat meat less).

I am having difficulty convincing my Facilities department at a major DIY Retailer’s Head Office (orange aprons; enough said) that it is unnecessary for us to have the choice of free range OR battery eggs at work. Quote from our Facilities manager:

we need to give people a choice and let them make it because once we start telling people

what to eat or drink we can become in danger of becoming a bit nanny state like,

we could only use organic/free range meat skimmed milk only serve diet soft drinks and so on

Not the most eloquent, nor the most convincing argument, I’m sure you’ll agree!

In response to Richard’s post: I am a true believer in meat being a luxury. It always has been a food for the rich. In times of not being able to afford good meat on a daily basis, I don’t. I treat myself to welfare, free range meats once or maybe twice per week, and I consider myself relatively well-off to be able to do so. Meat is simply not a necessity; we are omnivores.

The old style cages have been banned. BUT, they have been replaced by new style cages that are only slightly bigger. The new ‘enriched’ cages still don’t provide laying hens with enough space to perform almost all natural behaviours and hens kept in them are still suffering a painful and undignified life.

I’ve just checked egg prices at a big retailer:
caged – 10p each, barn – 20p each, free range – 25p each, organic – 30p each.

Meat prices vary similarly. Sadly though, until people accept that animal food products are a luxury item, consumers will continue to buy the cheapest (poor tasting, usually) foods they can with no regard to animal welfare. As a relative recently said to me, “If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. That way I can buy my cheap eggs and bacon.”