LONDON – UK Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced that tough action will be taken to improve welfare standards and living conditions for hens and prevent eggs produced in ‘battery cages’ being sold in the UK.

On Jan. 1, an EU ban on battery cages comes in to effect. At that time, egg producers will be required to provide hens with larger and more comfortable cages, which include nesting and scratching areas that allow more natural behavior.

For a long time the UK has been requesting a tough EU enforcement regime to ensure welfare standards are elevated.

Since no European agreement was reached on enforcement, the British government has been working closely with the domestic egg industry, processors, food manufacturers, the foodservice sector and retailers to reach a voluntary consensus that they won’t sell or use battery-farmed eggs.

“It is unacceptable that after the ban on battery cages comes into effect, around 50 million hens across Europe will still remain in poor conditions,” Paice said. “We have all had plenty of time to make these changes, but 13 EU nations have not done so. The UK egg industry alone has spent £400 million [US$535.6 million] ensuring hens live in better conditions. It would be unthinkable if countries continuing to house hens in poor conditions were to profit from flouting the law.

“British shoppers should be reassured that as long as they buy food containing eggs from those companies who have guaranteed not to use or sell eggs from battery cages, they will be supporting higher welfare standards and British egg producers,” he added.

In order to identify batches of eggs that were not laid in the new, more welfare friendly cages, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will use ultra-violet light. UV light picks up small marks left in the shell immediately after it has been laid before it hardens. Any eggs that only show a pattern of wire marks will be deemed laid in the old battery cages and will not be allowed to be sold as class A (whole) eggs.

Since many UK retailers and major food suppliers have since adopted stringent traceability tests to guarantee they will not supply eggs produced from illegal conventional cages or use them as ingredients in their own brand products, it will be difficult for producers who have not complied with the EU directive to find an outlet in the UK, Paice said.

“We’re taking action to protect UK consumers and the egg industry by hitting producers who flout the law where it hurts – in their pockets,” he added. “I want to congratulate the many major supermarkets and food businesses who have joined with us to stand up for animal welfare by saying they won’t sell or use eggs produced in battery cages, making it far less likely that the British public will be buying them.”