For our poster idea, we needed an example of food packaging that could potentially show lots of fall information about the product. We considered a few ideas before deciding on eggs. We chose this as there has always been lots of controversy about egg farming and the quality of lifer for the chickens. For an infographic, obviously we would need a range of information and facts to use, and so I have researched into the background of egg farming, the different types of farms and some of the figures that may shock much of the public who don’t necessarily know where their eggs are originating.
Made out of thin wire with a sloping mesh floor and often stacked 10 tiers high, a cage typically measures 50 x 55cm and houses five birds. EU laws state that a minimum of 550cm² is allowed per bird; less than the size of an A4 sheet. The average wing span of a hen is 76cm; the cages are so small that the hens will never be able to stretch their wings, raise their heads properly, nest or perform other normal chicken behaviours like preening or scratching properly. The sloping wire floor can damage feet and claws and restricted movement can result in fragile and often broken bones as well as frustration and aggression. And in such close confines hens cannot escape aggression from other hens.
Conventional battery cages were officially banned in 2012, however ‘enriched’ cages are still allowed to be used. These cages provide just 50cm² of extra usable area per bird and limited facilities. The RSPCA believes these still fail to properly cater for the hen’s physical and behavioural needs and impose severe restrictions on movement.
Barns allow the hens to roam freely inside uncaged, have perches to roost on and space to stretch their wings. Nesting boxes provide a quiet place for egg-laying and there is floor litter for scratching in. Multi-tier barns provide additional levels above ground for the hens to explore. Whilst this provides more room for the birds to move, these barns are often filthy, dingy and cramped, with some barns housing up to 16,000 birds. The term ‘barn’ gives a more appealing sense to the consumer, allowing them to believe that the barns are nice, light places for the hens, but they will barely see daylight or breathe fresh air and are still denied real freedom.
Most free-range hens on commercial farms live in buildings like the barn system, but have access to the outside through openings called ‘popholes’. EU laws require that free-range hens must always have access to an outside area with adequate vegetation during the daytime.
Fortunately, consumer power over the last few years has had a great effect on what is offered on the supermarket shelves. Several supermarkets including Waitrose, The co-operative, M&S and Sainsbury’s have banned caged eggs from their shelves. Overall the proportion of eggs from caged hens is down from 80% to 50% in the last 12 years – but that still means about 17 million hens in the UK are kept in cages.
I wanted to look further into facts about this topic and I found some interesting, and quite shocking figures about where eggs come from and the treatment of the hens:
- Around 36 million commercial egg laying hens were kept in the UK in 2013.
- In the UK the proportion of eggs produced in the different systems in 2013 was:
- 51 per cent* of eggs produced in battery cages
- 3 per cent* in barn systems
- 46 per cent* in free-range systems (of which 2 per cent were organic systems).
- Consumers are buying more boxes of free range and barn eggs, but 60 per cent of eggs used as ingredients in products like mayonnaise, cakes and sandwiches are still from hens kept in cages.
- UK laying hens currently produces around 10,000 million eggs. In the UK, the average consumer eats 170 eggs per year
The UK has a range of various Quality Assurance standards for for, often used on eggs. Below I have included some and what they mean for animal welfare: