What Is the Price of Caged Eggs? NEW Laws Have Come into Force to Give Battery Hens a Better Quality of Life - but Some Believe Farmers Will Even Be Playing Pampered Poultry Music. EMMA GREENHALGH Investigates

Article excerpt

FROM January 1 all farmers in the European Union were banned from keeping hens in barren battery cages - however it will still be perfectly legal to use so-called "enriched" enclosures.

Campaigners from the RSPCA called the changes "a step in the right direction," but said they have been pushing to get rid of battery cages for 30 years and will not stop until it happens.

The move has also been welcomed by farmers, despite concerns over a knock-on effect on the economy.

But when it comes to the public, the RSPCA revealed consumers in the North-east are largely ignorant - or at least confused - over the recent changes.

Almost nine out of 10 (88%) of people questioned in the region had not heard about the new legislation at all.

And almost a third (31%) of those quizzed wrongly guessed that battery cages will be banned altogether.

Shockingly, 2% even thought the chilled-out chicks would now be played around four hours of music a day.

In reality, the new enriched cages will give the hens slightly more room, perches, scratching and nesting areas. However, the hens still have less usable space per bird than an A4 sheet of paper.

Alice Clark, senior scientific officer from the RSPCA's farm animals department, said: "Some of the wrong answers would be funny, such as farmers having to play their hens music, if it wasn't such a serious issue.

"The reality is that a sizeable chunk of the public mistakenly think that hens will no longer be kept in cages and sadly that is not the case."

She called on the public to make their New Year's resolution to only buy cage-free eggs.

Farmer Martin Lowcock, 42, of Maltby Grange Farm, near Middlesbrough, said he is "passionate about animal welfare". Having farmed for 25 years, he supplies only free-range eggs.

The dad-of-two called the recently introduced laws "great news". But he added: "The British farming industry concern is that the British supermarkets and other customers will still purchase cage eggs - because they are cheaper - from other countries within the EU. …