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This note describes the law, both UK and EU, relating to battery hens (i.e. laying hens kept in battery cages). A separate note, Broiler chickens and poultrymeat (SN/SC/1386), covers broiler chickens (kept for meat).

An EU Directive in 1999 banned the use of conventional battery cages and replacing them with enriched battery cages, but not until 2012 to allow time for the industry to replace its equipment without undue cost.

The EFRA Select Committee report on the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive – implications for the egg industry noted that one third of Europe’s egg industry would not be compliant with the new regulations when they come into force in January 2012. It warned that the compliant industry could be undermined by cheaper imports deriving from battery hens.

On 6 December 2011 James Paice announced that the UK Government would rely upon surveillance of imports of shell eggs to determine whether they come from compliant systems.

In March 2012 there were concerns about a shortage of eggs in the UK.

Once birds are out of cages they can peck each others’ feathers. This problem causes considerable suffering. One solution is to trim the beaks within 10 days of hatching. Defra had legislated to ban beak trimming by 1 January 2011. However, on advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Council it was decided to postpone a total ban. A total ban will not be introduced until it can be demonstrated reliably under commercial conditions that laying hens can be managed without beak trimming, without a greater risk to their welfare than that caused by beak trimming itself. In November 2010 the Government announced a provisional date of 2016 for banning beak trimming.


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