The EU places great importance on animal welfare, and the health of laying hens was the first aspect of this issue to be regulated in 1986. Since 1999 the Protocol on Protection and Welfare of Animals of the Amsterdam Treaty has set out fundamental principles concerning EU action. Three types of rearing systems are admitted within European borders: enriched cages with at least 750 cm2 of cage area per hen, non-enriched cages with at least 550 cm2 and non-cage systems with at least one nest per seven hens and where the stocking density does not exceed nine laying hens per m2 usable area.
European commission taxonomy also recognizes three classes of eggs for human consumption: ‘fresh eggs’ belong to Class A, ‘Certain secondary quality or preserved eggs’ to Class B and ‘non-graded eggs’ to Class C. Consumers are unlikely to be aware of the legal implications of animal welfare regulations. In this setting, it is interesting to reflect on results of a survey founded by the European commission on attitudes of consumers towards the welfare of farmed animals, carried out in 2005 by the Eurobarometer.
Consumers seem to have a general positive attitude towards welfare of laying eggs: almost four citizens in ten surveyed (38%) state that they buy eggs from hens raised in free-range or outdoor production system. Having made just one visit to a farm is a good predictor of a consumer’s EggProduct-Nys-04.indd 47 7/22/11 11:59:33 AM 48 Improving the safety and quality of eggs and egg products © Woodhead Publishing Limited, 2011 positive attitude towards free-range eggs.
Among consumers who have never been to a farm, 33% buy eggs from hens kept in a cage, while 29% take no notice of the type of production system. Respondents who have visited a farm three times declared they would accept at least 25% increase in the price of eggs in exchange for stronger guarantees of welfare. Over 30% of consumers rate the welfare of laying hens as ‘very bad’ in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, while the highest percentage of ‘very good’ ratings has been registered in Malta (19%).
Together with the Scandinavians, North Europeans are also particularly vociferous in calling for improvements in rearing conditions and are the most willing to pay an extra price for it. The welfare of laying hens is perceived as worse than that of other farmed animals such as dairy cows and pigs.
Regarding socio-demographic characteristics, women are more prone than men to buy free-range eggs (43% against 34%), as are inhabitants of rural villages as opposed to those living in towns (Eurobarometer, 2005). To conclude this brief review on attitudes towards animal welfare, there are two questions that appear to be relevant