Every major UK retailer has now made a commitment to end the sale of eggs produced by colony-kept hens by 2025.
Supermarket chains including Tesco, Iceland, Morrisons, Asda, Lidl and Aldi have all set a 2025 deadline to allow a transition to cage-free production. The poultry sector is now in consultation with retailers and industry bodies over what will be the new cage-free standard.
Barn production – where birds are kept indoors but have freedom to roam a shed – is widely mooted as the likely replacement. But until clarity is provided, it would be a ‘brave man’ who invests in a new system, according to NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner.
“You would have to know there was a real market for barn – it would take a total shift in consumer demand,” Priestner said whilst warning against snap decisions that could leave poultry farmers out of pocket.
“We have built good relations with the retailers – UK agriculture’s biggest customer – and will be looking to those relationships to secure much needed clarification and certainty for our members. UK retailers have a very good track record on sourcing UK eggs and we look to that commitment continuing.”
The commitments – which came in fast succession between mid- to late-July – echoed a similar situation in America earlier this year, where sustained consumer pressure led to huge change to the egg market.
In the UK, petitioning by 14-year-old Lucy Gavaghan has generated half-a-million signatories calling for retailers to change their sourcing. Once Tesco moved, the remaining supermarkets still stocking caged eggs announced they, too, would phase out their sale. Tracey Jones, of animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming, said it demonstrated the power of consumer lobbying to influence business.
Dr Jones added: “The speed with which these announcements are being made demonstrates the power of market shift when forward thinking brands lead the way and act as a catalyst for change. It is a time of major change for laying hen welfare in the UK and the hope that a cage-free day will dawn in modern egg production looks increasingly feasible.”