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?