Co-op tells of battery hens' shoebox space

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The Independent Online
DAVID NICHOLSON-LORD

Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Customers of the Co-op, Britain's fifth-biggest retailer, will today be told that the battery eggs they are buying have been produced by hens whose living space is no bigger than a shoebox.

The Co-op claims to be the first retailer to tell its customers the "harsh truth" about battery farming.

The first eggs bearing the label "intensively produced" go on sale in Co-op stores today, together with leaflets criticising the "meaningless" labels used by rivals.

The initiative is part of a "right to know" policy launched by the Co- op in April after a survey of 30,000 shoppers. Consumers expressed growing concern about ethical issues but most do not trust stores to tell them the truth about products.

Bill Shannon, general manager for product development, said producers and retailers were only giving "half the story" about animal welfare. "They are happy to label free-range eggs - but not those eggs produced intensively."

The survey, claimed to be the biggest of its kind, suggested that consumers are willing to boycott shops which do not reflect their ethical concerns and will also pay more for products which meet higher animal welfare standards.

The Co-op's publicity leaflet says intensive production has allowed eggs to be sold efficiently and cheaply but that each bird has a minimum of only 450sq cms of space - less than the size of the A4 leaflet.

It says that many producers add meaningless phrases such as "country fresh" or "farm fresh" to their battery-produced eggs packages. "Others go further and put illustrations on the pack which give an idyllic impression, very different from the reality of these hens' lives."

The leaflet also explains the Co-op's adoption of the RSPCA Freedom Foods label for its barn and free-range eggs: the latter gives hens almost four times more space than they have under EU free-range regulations as well as the "freedom" to dust-bathe, scratch the ground and forage.

The Co-op says the Freedom Food standards means that its eggs are produced under the "highest commercially achievable conditions yet can still be sold at affordable prices".

Six size 3 intensively-produced Co-op eggs cost 69p, compared with 77p for the barn eggs and 85p for the free-range.

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