During Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign in February last year, the candidate promised animal welfare and environmental NGO WWF that he would ban eggs laid by battery hens by 2022. He then watered down this promise during an October speech at the Etats generaux de l'alimentation, saying it would only apply to shell eggs.
This week, French agriculture minister Stéphane Travert confirmed the government would go ahead with this second promise.
“In 2022, so-called shell eggs’– sold in boxes or loose – will be from free-range hens and not battery hens. It was a campaign promise and it will be kept,” he said this Sunday (18 February) on Europe 1.
An estimated 68% of eggs sold in France come from some 32 million battery hens.
France produced 14.3 billion eggs in 2016, making it the biggest egg producer in the EU, followed by Italy and then Germany, according to the national egg promotion organisation, CNPO.
The ban will not apply to eggs used in processed products, however some manufacturers are already acting. In November last year, Nestlé said it would extend its cage-free egg commitment globally, phasing out eggs from battery hens, including shell eggs and ingredient eggs, by 2025. In the US and Europe, the switch to cage-free eggs would be complete by the end of 2020, it said.
Mars already has banished cage eggs from its products in Europe since 2011 and will do so in the US by 2020. French retailer Leclerc has pledged to remove all cage eggs from its private label products by 2025 while Lidl has promised the same by 2020.
CIWF: 'Not ground-breaking'
A spokesperson for the not-for-profit organisation Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) said: "This announcement is not ground-breaking nor do we know how it will be implemented in practice. We definitely would have liked the ban to apply to all eggs - shell eggs and eggs used as ingredients-, and for free range to be the only option, not barn. [Travert] did mention free range but did not rule out barn eggs."
In 1999, a European Union directive banned battery cages. However, it allowed so-called “enriched cages” which must be at least 45 cm high and have at least 750 cm² of space, 600 cm² of which must be a "usable area" with a litter tray and perches, while the remaining 150 cm² has a nesting area.
CIWF and other animal welfare groups strongly criticised the directive for failing to provide significant welfare benefits compared to conventional battery cages.
Hen raised in battery cages have 750 cm² per hen and no access to any outdoor space. There is no limit to the livestock size, with an average of 50,000 hens in one building, according to CIWF.
Barn hens are kept at a density of nine hens per square metre with an average of 20,000 animals per building.
Eggs sold in France are stamped with a number to indicate the living conditions of the hen, with number three corresponding to battery cage eggs, two for barn eggs, one for free-range and zero for organic.
In a 1000-strong poll commissioned by L214 and carried out by YouGov this month, 90% said they were opposed to raising hens in cafes and would support a ban.
According to L214, recent years have marked “a turning point” with more than 100 agri-food companies as well as retailers, caterers and hotel chains committing to exclude cage eggs by 2025 either on shelf or as an ingredient.