Marks & Spencer vows to use only free-range eggs

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The Independent Online

Animal welfare groups last night welcomed the decision by a leading supermarket chain to use only free range eggs in its food products.

Marks & Spencer yesterday became the first main British retailer to introduce the policy, although the free range industry cast doubt on the store's ability to switch production across the hundreds of recipes that would need changing.

The chain's decision would include products such as ready meals, quiches, meringues, cakes and ice cream.

Marks & Spencer claims to have a record of leadership on animal issues and was the first big chain to stock only free range eggs. It has also stopped bacon suppliers tethering pigs.

It said that its latest plan was prompted by customer concerns about animal welfare.

However, the task may well prove to be large-scale and complex, according to the British Free Range Egg Association. "It's possible but I would hazard a guess that it would be extremely difficult," a spokesman said.

The British Egg Information Service confirmed that Marks & Spencer was the first main retailer to use only British Lion Quality free range eggs in all of its egg products.

The Lion Quality mark requires all eggs and egg products to be produced to higher standards of hygiene and animal welfare than are required by law. It stipulates that laying hens must be vaccinated against salmonella and also allows eggs to be traced back to where they were laid.

Dr Julia Wrathall of the RSPCA said: "This is a very positive move for hen welfare, and exactly the sort of move our research indicates consumers want to see more of."

David Gregory, Marks & Spencer's head of food technology, said: "This will be a major milestone because of the scale of the number of products involved and complexity of working with hundreds of unique Marks & Spencer recipes.

"We're confident that our move to switch from battery to free-range eggs will be welcomed and we'll work to achieve this in partnership with our suppliers."