Have we cracked our battery habit?

They are more expensive, but for the first time this year we will buy more free-range eggs than those from intensive farms. Martin Hickman reports

Twenty years ago free-range eggs were rarely bought but for the first time this year they will outsell those from caged birds, according to industry estimates.

Of the 9 billion eggs laid in the UK in 2012, 49 per cent will come from free-range hens allowed to roam outdoors, compared with 48 per cent from hens cooped up in cages. A further 3 per cent come from "barn" hens that wander around indoor sheds, according to the British Egg Industry Council.

Animal welfare groups say there has been a quiet revolution in shopping habits since 1995, when 86 per cent of British eggs came from battery cages.

Although barren battery cages were banned by the European Union on 1 January, their replacement, "enriched" cages, contain perches and litter for pecking and scratching, but give each hen only 750cm squared – little more than a sheet of A4 paper.

Some farmers using battery cages are thought to have left the business in recent months rather than invest in "enriched" cages, further tilting the balance in favour of free-range.

The RSPCA believes the transformation in our egg-buying habits has been spurred by the introduction eight years ago of compulsory labelling which forced producers to state the method of production.

Several retailers such as Waitrose, the Co-op and Marks & Spencers will not stock any eggs from caged birds, but other supermarkets such as Tesco and Morrisons, will sell eggs from enriched cages.

The RSPCA says the rise of free-range sales shows shoppers are prepared to pay more to ensure good animal welfare. On average, free-range costs 4p more per egg, with Tesco selling a free-range box of six for £1.68 and six from caged birds for £1.46.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed the long-term trend away from cages last week when it disclosed egg production figures for 2011.

For the first time last year, most eggs, 51 per cent, came from the three non-cage systems: organic, free-range and barn (where there is no access to the outdoors).

Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, which represents producers, said: "There's a greater demand for non-caged eggs and egg producers have responded to that."

9bn eggs will be laid in the UK this year – and more will come from free-range sources than from battery farms

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us