Many Australians like to eat eggs. On average, we’re eating over 15 million eggs a day and consumption is on the rise. And while grocery buyers are more often than not choosing cage-free eggs in the supermarket, sadly the number of Aussie hens confined to barren battery cages isn’t decreasing. More than 10 million of these smart and inquisitive birds are still kept in bare wire cages for their entire egg-laying lives. So where are these cage eggs going, if they’re not going into most shopping trolleys?
An estimated eight in 10 eggs used in food service and manufacturing are cage eggs. But this is changing with many of Australia’s biggest and best-known brands responding to the expectations of their customers by ending the use or sale of cage eggs in their businesses, in favour of cage-free.
These ‘Cage Free and Proud’ brands are leading the way - and they are far from being small, exclusive names: McDonald’s, Grill’d, Subway, IKEA, Arnott’s and Harris Farm Markets are just some of the brands that have already switched to using cage-free eggs, while Australia’s three leading supermarkets have made public commitments to phase out cage eggs from their shelves (Coles by 2023, ALDI and Woolworths by 2025).
You might be wondering why we’re talking about cage free rather than free range. In Australia there are three main types of egg-production systems: cage, barn laid and free range. Both free range and barn laid are known as ‘cage free’. When people think of choosing ethically farmed eggs, they often focus only on free range systems which give hens access to the outdoors. But just because a hen doesn’t have access to the outdoors, doesn’t mean that she can’t have a comfortable life inside. In fact, when managed well, a barn laid system can be just as good in terms of welfare as a well-run free range farm. Since hens spend so much of their time inside the shed, even in free-range systems, the indoor environment is very important for their welfare. In well-managed barn systems, hens can stretch, flap their wings and, very importantly, they’re able to lay their eggs in secluded nest boxes. When hens are given adequate space to move around on quality litter flooring, you can be confident that they will be able to do the things they enjoy!
The same can’t be said of cage systems. Hens are crammed into bare cages, with each hen allowed less space than the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Not only are hens hardly able to walk or flap their wings, they suffer from health issues including brittle bones and foot problems. They’re also unable to escape from the aggression of other birds. Science has shown us that it’s simply not possible for hens to enjoy higher welfare in cages because the cages themselves are the cause of their suffering. With the huge volume of eggs consumed every day, barn laid is a necessary alternative if we’re to end the use of battery cages once and for all. Barn laid eggs are also often a more viable option than free range eggs, meaning they can be used in food manufacturing, restaurants, cafes, catering companies and quick service restaurants.
Getting hens out of battery cages won’t happen overnight, but when you choose to support brands that are Cage Free and Proud, you’re playing a role in helping to bring about this change. And that’s the best thing we can do right now for these quirky and intelligent creatures.
Check out our list of brands that are already cage free or on their way – and let us know if your favourite brand isn’t there – at rspca.org.au/cagefreeproud.