Concerns public are not aware of new hens legislation

AN RSPCA poll has revealed that worryingly 86 per cent people in East Midlands had not heard about the new welfare legislation on hens.

From this month all farmers in the EU will be banned from keeping hens in barren battery cages – however it will still be perfectly legal to use so-called ‘enriched’ battery cages.

The poll also showed that and over six out of ten people (63 per cent) wrongly assumed what the new legislation would mean for hen welfare when given a list of options – or simply did not know.

A fifth (22 per cent) wrongly assumed that all hens will have to spend at least four hours a day outside the cage.

Nearly a fifth (17 per cent) wrongly assumed all battery cages would be banned and a further six per cent wrongly assumed all hens would have to be free-range

Elsewhere in England, one per cent wrongly guessed that farmers will have to provide at least four hours of music for their hens each day.

Alice Clark, senior scientific officer from the RSPCA’s farm animals department (pictured), 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.

“The message we want to drive home is that, despite new welfare law, hens will still be kept in cruel cages – if you don’t agree with that make it your new year’s resolution to only buy cage-free eggs.”

Despite increasing sales of cage-free eggs, more than half the eggs the public eat are hidden in food, such as cakes, quiches, pastries and sauces*, which do not legally have to be labelled cage, barn or free-range.

RSPCA research revealed that almost three quarters of people in East Midlands (74 per cent) think food containing eggs should be required by law to be labelled with the system they came from - caged hens, barn, free-range.

And almost two thirds of people in East Midlands (64 per cent) said they agreed that shops should stop selling cage eggs, or products containing them, even if it meant prices may go up.

About 15 million hens are expected to be kept in cages in the UK next year (2012) and it is estimated that 222 million hens will kept in cages across Europe*.

Enriched cages 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 and are not able to properly express some natural behaviours like dustbathing and foraging.

The RSPCA thinks no hen should be kept in a cage and 66 per cent of people surveyed in East Midlands agreed saying they would like enriched battery cages banned too.

Alice Clark added: “Although there seems to be public confusion about the new legislation it’s great to see that a majority of people care about the hens which lay their eggs and support the work of the RSPCA to improve welfare standards.

“This new legislation is certainly a step in the right direction but the RSPCA has been campaigning to get rid of cruel battery cages for 30 years and will not stop until this happens.”

When buying eggs look for boxes labelled Freedom Food – which means they are from farms inspected to the RSPCA’s strict welfare standards – if they are not available choose barn, free-range or organic.

Most of the major supermarkets use non-cage eggs as ingredients in their premium ranges and some in their own brand products.

For a free shopping guide about cage-free eggs log onto www.rspca.org.uk/eggs