French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert has announced that the Government is to ban the sale of shell eggs in supermarkets from cages by 2022.
Mr Travert said he was honouring a commitment made by French President Emmanuel Macron last year when he promised the WorldWide Fund for Nature that he would ban the sale of eggs from caged hens.
Speaking to the French radio broadcaster Europe 1, Mr Travert said: “In 2022, so-called shell eggs – sold in boxes or loose – will be from free-range hens and not battery hens. It was a campaign promise and will be kept.”
Some French supermarkets are already taking action and pledged to withdraw caged shell eggs from stores. Monoprix stopped selling caged eggs in 2016, while Carrefour will only sell free-range eggs from 2020. Auchan had set itself a target of 2025 before this week’s announcement.
While the move has the backing of nearly nine of out of ten French voters, according to a recent poll, it has attracted criticism.
Mr Travert’s announcement has angered the French poultry sector, which is the largest in the EU and produced 14.3 billion eggs in 2016. Currently, around two thirds of eggs sold in France come from 32 million caged hens. The French eat an average of 220 eggs a year.
Poultry farmers said the ban would cost hundreds of millions of euros to implement and may infringe the EU’s single market rules.
The Times reported the National Committee for the Promotion of Eggs as saying the ban would drive hundreds of chicken farmers out of business, leading to an “explosion of imports” and a large rise in prices.
Its general secretary Maxime Chaumet accused the government of reneging on earlier promises: “In November the president and the agriculture minister asked us to come up with a plan and we said we could get to 50% of hens not in cages by 2022. This would cost the sector €500 million and we have no idea where the money would come from.”
The ban will not apply to eggs used in processed products.