Issues > Food & Drink > Animals > Egg Choices
CAGE EGGS Hens are housed in battery cages. This is the production method for conventional egg farming. The current minimum space allocation for caged birds is 450cm2 floor space per bird (less than the size of a piece of A4 paper). With on average 3- 5 birds per cage, this equals about 18 hens per square metre. The small size of cages means that birds are unable to turn around easily, stretch out, flap their wings or exercise. Cages do not satisfy the hen's behavioural need to perch, dust bathe, forage, and lay their eggs in a secluded nest. Beaks are trimmed to prevent cannibalism.
In 2008, the European Union announced a ban on conventional battery cages to come into effect from 2012 (Directive 1999/74/EC). This will mean 'Enriched' cages must allow at least 750 cm2 per hen, and contain a nest, litter, perch and clawing-board. This is equal to 9 hens per square metre.
BARN-LAID EGGS Hens are housed in a large barn or shed, which contains perching facilities, litter, nest boxes, feeders and drinkers. Most barns have around one-third of the floor space covered with litter that allows for scratching and dust bathing. Flocks may be small (500 birds) or large (5000 birds or more). Conventional barns house 12-15 hens per square metre. The RSPCA-accredited barn-housed hens ('Choose Wisely' branding) house up to 9 hens per square metre.
FREE-RANGE EGGS In May 2016 a new national standard for free-range egg production was introduced, requiring the density of chickens outdoors must be no more than one hen per square metre (10,000 hens per hectare) and hens are to have "meaningful and regular" access to the outdoors. It also requires the disclosure of outdoor stocking densities. This legislation is significantly less strict than the 1,500 birds per hectare standard, recommended by the CSIRO and preferred by the RSPCA, a standard previously in place in the Australian Capital Territory. Consumer advocacy group CHOICE responded to the new standards by calling for a consumer boycott of eggs from companies with high stocking densities. Three voluntary certifications that have documented standards are:
(1) FREPA (Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia). 7 hens per square metre. Farms are inspected annually, hens have access to pasture and water, do not lay under lights, and are not debeaked.
(2) Organic certification. ACO (Australian Certified Organic) guarantee birds are fed organic grain, are free from pesticides, chemical fertilisers and antibiotics, with a maximum of 5 hens per square metre.
(3) RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme includes standards for barn or free-range production where farms are assessed by the RSPCA at least twice per year. The standards are focussed on animal welfare where hens can perch, dust bathe, scratch and forage, and lay their eggs in a nest.
(4) Australian Egg Corporation 'Egg Corp Assured', which represents 90% of producers, code of practice for animal welfare as part of their quality assurance scheme has 14 hens per square, and 'access' to outside. Allows beak trimming. Recipients of Choice's 2008 "Shonky Awards".
If you want to buy free-range eggs with hen welfare in mind, look for independent certification such as FREPA, RSPCA or Certified Organic. Or use the Choice free-range eggs buying guide to see which brands meet the recommended model code of 1500 hens per hectare.