It's official: As of January 1, 2012, all eggs in the European Union (EU) are supposed to be hatched by hens kept in free-range barns or "enriched" cages. Happily, the UK has gone the full nine yards and spent £400 million on meeting the new standards.
Starting now, cages will have to provide enough space for birds to be able to move around. According to the British Hen Welfare Trust, the new cages "can hold up to 90 birds, which will have space to spread their wings, perch and be able to go from one end of the cage to the other. The cage will now have to provide 750 square centimetres of space for each bird."
The last battery-housed hen, called Liberty, has just been re-housed by the Trust, to a farm in Devon.
Some Countries Lagging Behind Egg PolicyHowever, there are 11 countries that have not signed up to the agreement. It is estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80 million eggs will still be produced from illegally caged hens.
Spain and Poland, who are amongst Europe's largest egg producers, will not be ready to scrap battery cages, despite having over 12 years to prepare for the new law. Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Portugal and Romania are also dragging their feet.
This raises two important issues. Firstly, countries complying are concerned that the illegal eggs will be cheaper and therefore they will lose sales. It has been estimated that its costs 8% more to produce eggs under the new, and better conditions. Most of the illegal eggs will be used in imported, pre-made foods such as pastas, Scotch eggs, quiches and cakes produced outside of the UK.
The other issue is how consumers will be able to tell the difference between the good eggs and the bad ones. There has already been one case where a farmer sold more than a hundred million eggs as organic, and they weren't.
However the answer for the UK is simple: buy British.
Animal welfare groups are saying buy only free range eggs. Most of the supermarkets are selling free range or their own brand eggs now. Some are refusing to sell eggs from enriched cages, but other supermarkets are stocking them.