Use and classification of combination cages in the EU

Use and classification of combination cages in the EU

On 25 November 2020, Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Eleonora Evi of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:

“Some EU egg producers use what are referred to as ‘combination’ cages. When the doors to these cages are shut, the birds are caged. When the doors are open, the system is classified by producers as an ‘aviary’, even though the welfare conditions for hens are worse than in genuine cage-free aviaries. Hens have less space to move than in genuine cage-free aviaries because partitions and nest boxes block their way along the tiers. Furthermore, excessive stocking densities and a lack of space to move freely put hens at a higher risk of catastrophes such as smothering. Eggs do not have to be labelled on farm but are labelled during processing. It is therefore unclear whether eggs from combination cage systems carrying the label ‘barn eggs’ and marked with the number 2 are from hens which had some freedom to move or from caged hens. Millions of eggs could thus be labelled inaccurately, potentially misleading consumers, undermining trust in the quality of EU animal products, and perpetuating poor hen welfare.

Will the Commission publish figures on the use of combination cages, promote on-farm labelling, and ensure that ‘combination’ systems are not classified as cage-free?”

On 2 February 2021, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “Laying hens must be kept in the EU in accordance with Directive 1999/74/EC, which defines, amongst others, the conditions for alternative systems (Article 4). The Commission has no figures on the use of combination cages as referred to by the Honourable Member.

As provided in the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Commission will consider options for animal welfare labelling connected to animal welfare conditions. It has also been presented with the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age’. The Commission takes note of the risk of misleading consumers with farming systems that are not truly providing better conditions to the animals.

Regulation (EU) 589/2008 on marketing standards for eggs, lays down clear time limits for the marking of different categories of eggs with a producer code that also informs about the farming method. Clear provisions for producers, collectors and packing centres ensure that the final consumer is properly informed about the farming method of eggs even in cases when they are not marked at the production site.

In accordance with Directive 2002/4/EC only the farming methods ‘organic production’, ‘free range’, ‘barn’ and ‘cages’ are allowed, a classification of eggs as ‘cage-free’ is not foreseen in the respective EU legislation.

Member States shall appoint inspection services to check compliance of eggs with the marketing standards Regulation at all stages of marketing.”


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