What is the future of colony egg production in the UK?
The global egg industry is at the start of a period of significant change. What’s more, the change is happening fast. For the last forty years, cage and colony egg production has been the dominant egg produced and sold across the world. That is now changing as barn and free range egg production are increasing and, in some countries, legislation is being brought in to ban the production of caged egg. This change is coming about after pressure from NGOs over perceived animal welfare concerns, and large multinational companies are focusing more attention on how and where they source their agricultural products.
Currently the UK egg market is predominantly split between colony and free range egg production, with the split around 45% and 55% respectively. Retailers and some food companies have made commitments to stop selling and/or using colony eggs from 2025, preferring to have cage free eggs instead. This is a relatively short time frame to change a supply chain that only very recently invested in the colony egg production system.
The main aim of the report was to look at what was the alternative to colony egg production for the UK and how other countries in the world were tackling the same question. In most other countries there is a proportion of barn eggs which is an indoor, non caged production system. However, this has never really established itself in the UK with only a small number of eggs produced under this method. Producers and packers were visited in USA, Australia, New Zealand and Norway as these had strong correlations to the UK market or consumer trends.
Customers are wanting more cage free eggs - but what does cage free mean? Is that more free range eggs or is it more barn eggs? The answer is different for each country. There are a number of factors that influence this such as climate, affordability and disease. However, in both choices different interpretations are appearing. These were clear to see in things like production system design, size and scale and marketing.
The UK has by far the most developed free range egg market. A choice needs to be made whether the market moves to predominantly free range egg, or whether the barn egg sector is grown considerably. Whatever the outcome it will require substantial investment, and it is key that the right decision is made. It is important this is made with full customer and retailer support to allow commitment and confidence to be built on. The UK egg industry is one of the best in the world and part of this is down to its customer focus and ability to adapt. Its continued success depends upon continuing to be successful at these, but it has an important decision to make.
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Adapting UK egg production for an increasingly welfare-conscious marketHannah Eastaugh
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