Egg industry leaders have expressed their “significant and serious concerns” about sudden changes to the RSPCA’s welfare standards for laying hens, which they say will cost the industry millions, but for no extra return.
The new RSPCA Assured welfare standards were announced earlier this month after minimal consultation with the industry.
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To be allowed to carry the welfare logo on packs of eggs, barn egg producers will have to provide covered verandas outside new or refurbished sheds from 1 May 2024, though existing assurance scheme members will have until 2030 to complete the works.
Both barn and free-range egg producers will also have to provide windows allowing natural daylight into all sheds by 2030.
“The new laying hen standards will be a huge step forward for hen welfare,” said senior scientific officer Kate Norman.
But in a joint letter to RSPCA Assured, chairman of the British Egg Industry Council Andrew Joret and chairman of the British Free-Range Egg Producers Association James Baxter condemn the “timeliness, practicality and cost” of the new arrangement.
In particular, they say the standard around verandas will be, at best, difficult to implement, while for some sites, “by reason of topography and/or ventilation”, they will be physically impossible to construct.
“Regarding the provision of natural daylight, we are concerned that the installation of windows will make management of the birds more challenging, potentially leading to an increased risk of poor welfare outcomes, in addition to being difficult to install retrospectively,” the letter adds.
The two organisations put the cost of installing verandas and windows at about £10 a bird – a cost which they believe cannot be recovered from the marketplace.
About 70% of the 26 million bird national free-range flock are currently RSPCA Assured, suggesting a total potential cost to the sector of £182m.
“Free-range producers cannot be expected to bear this cost,” they say.
The two organisations have requested an urgent meeting with senior management of RSPCA Assured.