M&S wins praise as first supermarket to remove battery eggs from shelves

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The Independent Online
Marks and Spencer became the first supermarket to stop selling eggs produced by hens in battery cages today.

The company announced that from now all eggs in its 285 UK stores would be supplied by free range hens only. Campaigners hailed the decisions as a "bold" move and said it was a major step forward for animal welfare.

M&S said the decision had been prompted by growing consumer demand for free-range eggs. Guy McCracken, food managing director, said: "We care about customers and we care about animal welfare.

"We know our customers support our free-range egg strategy and we are pleased to be able to take a lead in this issue, as in so many others concerned with food safety and animal welfare.

"We believe we have taken a major step towards eliminating battery-farmed eggs."

The store's 20 branches in France will also be following the new policy from next week and in the long term, the store is aiming to use only free- range eggs in its prepared food lines. It means customers will have to pay more for their eggs. Six medium free-range eggs cost 89p compared to 69p for battery-produced eggs.

But a spokeswoman said sales of battery eggs had sunk to about 10 per cent of all sales before the switch.

Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming, which has campaigned vigorously against battery cages, welcomed what he said was a bold move.

He said: "It's a tremendous step forward for farm animal welfare. We hope it marks yet another nail in the coffin of battery cages which is a cruel system that has been condemned by scientists, politicians and the general public."

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "We're delighted with the step M&S has taken. It points the way for positive animal welfare and we hope other supermarkets will follow suit." She said they also wanted clear labelling on egg boxes so customers could not be misled into thinking they were buying free-range when the eggs had come from caged hens.

Other supermarket chains were more sceptical. Industry insiders said M&S had a less than one per cent share of the egg market in the UK.

Sainsbury's said it had to offer customers a choice and had no plans to stop stocking battery-produced eggs.

"Prices at Marks & Spencer tend to be higher and shoppers would expect to pay a premium and probably wouldn't mind. Customers vote with their purses and we have to offer that choice," said a spokesman.

She said around 75% of eggs sold at Sainsbury's were from battery-hens.

A spokesman for Safeway said the store only sold a small range of clearly labelled battery eggs in its Savers economy range. He said free range and barn laid eggs accounted for the majority of its sales.

Marks and Spencer said its eggs were being supplied by small farms in Sussex, Nottinghamshire, the Thames Valley and Northern Ireland to free- range standards recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and the RSPCA.

Around 11% of the UK's egg production is free-range.