Right of Reply: Andrew Joret

The vice-chairman of the British Egg Industry Council replies to our leading article on battery hens
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CONSUMERS BUY eggs from all types of production systems so they have a choice. Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods you can buy. They are an excellent source of protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals.

Hens kept in the laying cage system are ensured a healthy body and a clean, protected environment. They are less likely to pass on disease than hens in alternative systems, and are protected from predators. The mortality rate of these hens is lower than that of hens in alternative systems - on average 5 per cent during their working lives, compared to 10 per cent.

The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) already advocates the highest standards of animal welfare through its Lion Code of Practice.

The vote taken by the European Parliament to ban laying cages across Europe from 2009 is only an opinion to the Council of Ministers. A total ban on caged egg production would be impractical, as no other production system can meet consumer demand for cheap, nutritious, quality eggs.

Conversion of all hens housed in laying cages to free range would cost the UK industry approximately pounds 700m. There would be an increase in costs in all systems.

It is vital that any legislation is enforced EU-wide to prevent cheaper eggs being imported from member states with lower animal welfare standards. Imports from outside Europe, with lower standards, should be banned.

The report re-released by Compassion in World Farming relating to osteoporosis in hens is 10 years old. The UK egg industry produced a code of practice that specified the most welfare-friendly methods of handling hens. Research has shown that implementing the code has improved the welfare of laying hens.