In true British style, I’m slightly embarrassed.
The Canadian Retail Consortium has just announced that all its members will sell only cage-free eggs by 2025. So it’s strange, and rather awkward, that a similar commitment is lacking in the UK.
Waitrose, M&S, The Co-operative, Sainsbury’s and a number of smaller retailers in the UK are already cage-free on all their shell eggs (both their own-brand, and the other brands they stock). But as you’ve no doubt spotted, that means there are some rather notable omissions among the retail giants in this country.
What’s going on? Whilst far from perfect in its animal welfare standards, the UK has a proud history of leading the way. In the UK, sow stalls are entirely banned (in the rest of the EU they’re permitted only for the first four weeks of a sow's pregnancy, and in the US there’s no legislation at all).
Stocking densities for broiler chickens are capped at 39kg/m2 in the UK, rather than 42kg/m2 in the rest of the EU. But amidst the flurry of recent announcements in the USA and now Canada, the egg-laying hens on British soil are being somewhat neglected.
Retailers who have yet to make a cage-free pledge on their eggs seem to be hiding behind a misguided notion of ‘choice’ for consumers. Of course, it’s important to offer good value options to customers. But cruelty-free products should not just be the preserve of wealthier shoppers.
The UK already has an excellent supply base of cage-free eggs, and the volumes available (and cost of production) would only improve with further commitments from major retailers.
With a strong case for action, and our neighbours across the pond leading the way, maybe we can attribute the lack of cage-free pledges in the UK to a simple matter of oversight. Surely the British retailers will realise their error - and we’ll see hear some major announcements soon?
Comment from Jemima Jewell, Head of Food Business, Compassion in World Farming