Improving the welfare of laying hens

Germany plays a leading role in Europe in animal welfare issues: Fundamental changes and improvements have been made to husbandry systems.

Husbandry systems for laying hens in Germany have changed fundamentally, and thus improved significantly, in recent years. This is primarily due to the fact that husbandry in conventional battery cages has been banned in Germany since 1 January 2010 – two years earlier than the deadline laid down in EU legislation. Since 1 January 2010, laying hens have only been permitted to be kept in small groups, in floor housing and free-range systems or in organic production systems.

Small Group Housing of Laying Hens to be phased out

The German Federal Government and the Länder have agreed to phase out small group housing systems. The Bundesrat decision of 6 November 2015 on the relevant changes to the Animal Welfare-Farm Animal Husbandry Ordinance provides for a phase-out deadline for existing holdings by the end of 2025. Only in special cases of hardship should an extension to this deadline of up to a maximum of three years (2028) be possible.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture had taken the initiative to a State Secretaries Committee for Animal Welfare whose consultations led to political agreement between the Federal and Länder agriculture ministers on phasing out this form of husbandry and the necessary transition periods.

80 percent of all laying hens kept in floor housing, free-range and organic husbandry systems

According to current data at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the ban on caging in Germany has led to a significant change in production structures. Whereas in 2008, about 62 percent of all laying hens in Germany were still kept in conventional cages and small-group housing systems, currently only 14 percent are held in small-group housing systems, following the ban on conventional cages.

The majority (two-thirds) of all laying hens are kept in floor-housing systems. This percentage almost tripled between 2008 (21.7 percent) and 2011 (64.2 percent). In 2011, 14.4 percent of all laying hens were kept in free-range systems (2008: 11.1%). Organic production increased its share of overall production from 5.1 percent in 2008 to 7.4 percent in 2011.

Changes in consumer behaviour

Modern forms of husbandry that respect animal welfare requirements reflect changes in consumers’ purchasing behaviour. With a market share of over 50 percent, eggs from floor-housing systems are the most popular among consumers in Germany, followed by free-range eggs. The purchase of organically produced eggs rose last year by approximately 30 percent over 2010; the purchase of eggs from small-group housing systems sank by almost 40 percent.

Phasing-out of small-group housing systems

The Federal Constitutional Court has passed a judgment on small-group housing systems: As of 1 April 2012, the current regulations in the Animal Welfare – Farm Animal Husbandry Ordinance are, based on the decision by the Constitutional Court, no longer to be applied. In concrete terms, this means that until a new regulation comes into force, small-group housing is to be assessed by the enforcement agencies of the Laender on the basis of general animal-welfare stipulations (§ 2 of the Animal Welfare Act and §§ 3,4 and 13 of the Animal Welfare – Farm Animal Husbandry Ordinance).

The Federal Government had taken the initiative in 2011 and presented a proposal that was intended to make the phasing-out of small-group housing final. As no agreement was able to be reached between the Federal Government and the Laender on a transitional regulation for existing systems, the Laender are themselves now called upon to draw up a regulation that complies with the constitution. The Federal Government and the Laender are fundamentally in agreement that small-group housing should be phased out. Floor management, free-range and organic husbandry are the husbandry alternatives of the future.

EU-wide ban on conventional cage housing of laying hens

At European level, the Federal Government has strongly advocated that the ban on conventional cage housing, which has been in force since 1 January 2012, should be strictly implemented in all EU Member States and reliable controls carried out to ensure compliance. No ground must be given in European animal welfare. The EU Commission has in the meantime announced that it will be stringent in monitoring compliance with the ban and will punish infringements. Infringement proceedings have already been initiated in certain EU States. The Federal Government reiterates its call to the Commission that applicable law must be strictly enforced throughout Europe – if necessary by fining Member States which infringe against EU legislation and continue to tolerate battery cage systems despite the ban.

Egg marketing

In the Federal Government’s opinion, holdings that have complied with the stipulations and stopped using conventional cage housing must not be placed at a commercial disadvantage. The Federal Government therefore welcomes the announcement made by John Dalli, the competent EU Commissioner, that strict controls would be conducted throughout Europe at the sites of production. It must be ensured that the applicable legislation is implemented strictly throughout Europe, if necessary by fining Member States that infringe against the EU legislation.

The food industry must contribute in this respect and ensure that there is transparency for the retail sector and for consumers. The food retail trade has already stopped offering eggs produced from cage housing in its range of fresh goods. For processed products such as noodles, the food retail trade either requires certificates or concludes contractual agreements with its suppliers that no eggs from conventional cages were used in the processing.

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© Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture