The EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive

Date: 28/12/11

On 1 January 2012, the EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive comes into force. As a result of the Directive, UK egg producers will have spent more than £400m on ensuring compliance with the new rules, which ban the use of conventional ‘battery cages’ for laying hens. Instead, ‘Enriched’ cages, which are designed to increase the welfare of the laying hens, must now be provided.  However, British farmers fear that, by their own compliance with the Directive, they will be put at a competitive disadvantage compared to farmers in other EU countries who are expected to flout the rules.

According to the European Commission, the UK is expected to be fully compliant with the Directive by 1 January, and therefore consumers can be confident of the improved condition for hens when purchasing eggs produced within the UK.  However, about 20% of the 31m eggs consumed every day in Britain are imported and it is predicted that hundreds of egg producers, producing millions of eggs, across the EU are expected to flout the rules and continue to house their hens in battery cages. This is despite Member States having already had nearly 13 years to prepare for the ban.

The cost to UK producers of complying with the Directive has been significant: figures estimate that not only has over £400m been spent in converting to ‘enriched’ cages but, in addition, the estimated costs of production is 8% higher for ‘enriched’ cage eggs than for outlawed ‘battery’ cage eggs. The impact of compliance will, therefore, leave UK producers at a competitive disadvantage if cheaper, non-compliant eggs and egg products continue to be imported from other EU countries.

The British Egg industry has pleaded with the Government to ban imports of illegally produced eggs and egg products in order to save the UK industry from being severely disadvantaged. In a statement on 6 December 2011, Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice, announced that the Government has ‘thoroughly investigated the possibility of taking unilateral action and bringing in a UK ban on all imports of egg and egg products which have been produced in conventional cages in other Member States’, but ultimately concluded that this “is not a realistic option”. The Government is, instead, intending to rely on the food industry to self-regulate and to reach a ‘voluntary consensus’ that they will not sell or use these illegally produced eggs in their products. 

Standing in solidarity with egg farmers, some retailers have pledged not to stock products that do not comply with the new standards. The problem is that this is their choice, and there may well be many retailers and producers who choose not to adopt this approach and to continue to stock eggs and products that do not meet the standards in order to keep their costs down. 

In the absence of any UK Government or EU Commission intervention, the impact is likely to remain with ordinary market forces and the level of consumers’ awareness and pressure. The food industry will have to wait until 2012 for the effect of the UK producers’ investment compliance to be properly understood.

For more information about DWF’s Food Sector, please do not hesitate to contact Peter Allen, Head of Food Group on 0161 604 1639  or email

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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