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The Welfare of Laying Hens Directive

EU legislation has banned barren battery cages, replacing them with enriched cages, which have more space and height, a nesting area, litter for scratching and perches for the hens.

All British Lion cage eggs come from hens that are kept in these higher welfare conditions.

The EU Council Directive 1999/74/EC on the Welfare of Laying Hens came into full force on 1 January 2012. Under the Directive the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens was prohibited in the EU.  The legislation meant that barren battery cages had to be replaced with enriched cages, with more space and height, a nesting area, scratching area and perches for the hens.  In the UK producers have installed larger 'colony' cages housing between 40-80 birds, which allows better use of the shared space.

The Directive was intended to improve the welfare of laying hens. According to Defra “There is clear evidence that conventional cages are detrimental to hen welfare and therefore the decision to ban them by 2012 represents a significant welfare advance across the European Union.”

It was the first piece of EU legislation to phase out a method of production due to animal welfare concerns. The legislation was adopted in 1999 and the Directive prohibited the building or new use of conventional cage systems from January 2003 and prohibited all use of such systems from 1 January 2012. The Directive has been incorporated into English law since 2002, most recently in the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 and in similar but separate legislation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Egg producers in the UK invested nearly £400m replacing barren battery cages with the more animal welfare friendly enriched 'colony' cages, in advance of the new legislation. However, many producers elsewhere in the EU were much slower to meet their obligations under the Directive and even at the end of 2013 there were still eggs being produced in the EU by hens kept in barren battery cages.

To avoid eggs laid in barren battery cages, which are still legal outside the EU, consumers are advised to look for the British Lion mark on eggs and egg packs, which guarantees that the eggs are both legal and produced to the higher animal welfare and food safety standards.