Council Directive 1999/74/EC made a distinction between 3 types of rearing systems for laying hens. Of these, the non-enriched cage systems are prohibited since 1 January 2012. The systems which remain in use are:
enriched cages where laying hens have at least 750 cm² of cage area per hen
alternative systems where laying hens can move freely with a stocking density not exceeding 9 laying hens per m² usable area
Whichever system is used, all hens must have a nest, perching space, litter to allow pecking and scratching and unrestricted access to a feed trough and drinking device.
The directive also states that all egg production units must be registered with the competent authorities in EU countries and have a distinguishing number which can be used to trace eggs back to their farm of origin. In January 2002, the Commission Directive 2002/4/EC set the registration requirements for the establishments keeping laying hens in all Member States.
For scientific opinions on the welfare aspects of laying hens, please consult the EFSA website.
In 2021, the European Commission launched a two-year pilot project on "Best practices for transitioning to higher welfare cage-free egg production systems". The project will help egg producers meet market demand by providing practical guidance on how to transition to cage-free systems.
On 3rd May 2023, the final results from this project were presented at a high-level conference in Brussels. See all details of the event on the website of the project.
- Report on official controls linked to the protection of the welfare of laying hens (EU Commission)
- Scientific Opinion on welfare of laying hens on farm (EFSA)
- Scientific Opinion on welfare aspects of the use of perches for laying hens (EFSA)
- Welfare aspects of various systems of keeping laying hens (EFSA)
- Protection of laying hens (summaries of EU legislation)