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New bid to end cages for UK laying hens launched

Moves to introduce legislation outlawing cages for laying hens in the UK have successfully entered parliament.

Conservative backbench MP Henry Smith (Crawley) successfully presented a private members bill on the issue, which passed unopposed to a second reading, to take place on 22 October.

The NFU has argued that UK egg producers invested nearly £400m in 2012 when they replaced battery cages, which had led to a big improvement in animal welfare. Photo: Koos Groenewold
The NFU has argued that UK egg producers invested nearly £400m in 2012 when they replaced battery cages, which had led to a big improvement in animal welfare. Photo: Koos Groenewold

The successful introduction of the bill has prompted the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) and the Humane League UK to launch a petition, which has already attracted more than 25,000 signatures, to call on the government to end the caging of hens.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Smith introduced Beatrice’s Bill, saying the UK had banned the use of battery cages in 2012 but the ban was not extended to enriched cages. He cited an RSPCA article which said that such modified cages fail to properly meet the hen’s physical or behavioural needs, severely restricts many important physical activities including running, flying and wing-flapping, and do not permit unrestrained perching and dust-bathing. “The severe restrictions on the hen’s ability to exercise is likely to lead to frustration, bone weakness, osteoporosis and are clear indicators of poor welfare,” he said.

Cross party support

The bill has cross-party support from a range of MPs, including veteran animal welfare supporter Sir Roger Gale (Con, North Thanet), Tracey Crouch (Con, Chatham and Aylesford), Rosie Cooper (Lab, West Lancashire) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion). Lorraine Platt, co-founder of the CAWF, said the British public felt strongly about protecting the welfare of farmed animals. “Consumer polling shows more than 3 in 4 of us would like to see banning cages made a priority, and today’s petition marks an important step in demonstrating this to our political leaders.”

16 million hens in cages

At present, 16 million hens are still raised in cages every year across the UK, although companies such as Burger King and all the major supermarkets have committed to remove eggs from caged hens in their supply chains by 2025. However, this could still leave up to 8 million hens being caged.

“The UK risks lagging behind if we don’t act to ban cages now.”

Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria have already banned caging hens and bans are on their way in Germany, Belgium, Czechia and Slovakia. Cordelia Britton, head of campaigns at the Humane League UK, said: “The UK risks lagging behind if we don’t act to ban cages now. The European Parliament and Commission both recently supported a cage ban and even the UK is phasing out caging hens in certain states.”

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Millions invested

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has argued that UK egg producers invested nearly £400 million in 2012 when they replaced battery cages, which had led to a big improvement in animal welfare with lower mortality, better feather cover and good production. In a blog earlier this summer, NFU chief poultry adviser, Aimee Mahony, wrote that “colony cages have an important role to play in producing eggs for the UK consumer at an affordable price point and we will continue to support sustainable farming practices that maintain high welfare standards for laying hens.”

The petition can be found here.