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Eggscape from Cages: Polish Consumers Drive Shift in Hen Farming Practices

FOOD & AGRICULTUREEggscape from Cages: Polish Consumers Drive Shift in Hen Farming Practices

For ten years now, there’s been a steady increase in the share of alternative methods of laying hens’ farming. From these systems, every third packet of eggs now comes, although more than 37 million hens still live in cages. The gradual changes in farming are due to the increased awareness of consumers, followed by the HoReCa industry. They are ready to pay more for eggs originating from non-cage farming.

– In Poland, the consumption of eggs is about 150–160 eggs per year. Over a decade, it has decreased from 200 eggs per year. Compared to the European Union, this is quite a low consumption. We have a large laying hens’ farming sector, and consumption is lower than in many other European countries, meaning that Poland is an exporter of eggs to many EU and non-EU countries – says Paweł Rawicki, president of the Open Cages Association.

According to Eurostat data, Poland is the sixth largest egg producer and second egg exporter in the EU. We produce nearly 10 billion pieces per year, and every 10th egg in the European Union is laid by a Polish hen. According to FAO data, Poles eat an average of 163 eggs per person per year.

The Open Cages Association and Albert Schweitzer Foundation’s report “Withdrawal from caged farming of eggs. Recap of progress in the food, trade, and HoReCa industries” shows that we most often consume eggs from caged farming (67%). However, every third packet now comes from alternative systems – litter (approx. 20%), free-range (over 10%), and organic (almost 2%).

When we as Open Cages began activities in the area of caged farming of laying hens, over 87% of laying hens in Poland were kept in cages. Today, after ten years of activity, this figure is approx. 71.8%, which is 37 million animals. This is a significant decrease, but there are still many animals kept in conditions that are not suitable for them. So, we have much work ahead– emphasizes Paweł Rawicki.

For ten years, the share of alternative breeding systems has been steadily increasing in the structure of the hen breeding system in Poland. The highest percentage increase is noted in the number of laying hens kept in an organic system (by 538%), free-range (272%) and on litter (184%).

– In the European Union, the share of caged farming has already fallen below 40%. In Poland, it is still over 70%, so the difference is unfortunately large. We can say that we are catching up on certain changes that have already occurred in many countries in Europe – the expert points out.

In Europe, some countries have already banned cage farming of laying hens, e.g., the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and Denmark. Also, at the EU forum, work is underway to introduce such restrictions, but no binding regulations exist yet. However, the percentage of eggs sold from alternative farming will be growing due to changing consumer expectations, even without changes in the law.

No changes would have taken place without consumers who first express their opinions through purchasing preferences. Of course, they also buy caged eggs, but in Poland, this group of consumers is growing, who consider animal protection important and choose eggs other than those from cages – notes the president of the Open Cages Association.

When buying eggs, farming conditions are crucial for 68.5% of surveyed consumers. Over 62% are willing to pay a higher price for eggs or products with eggs from farms offering better living conditions for hens. Poles also negatively evaluate cage farming itself, believing that it does not provide hens with suitable living conditions (74.4%), and 65% want a ban on cage farming of laying hens.

– This shows significant social support for changes, which results in the decisions of retail chains responding to consumer demand. On the other hand, retail chains also want to build their image as companies responsible for animal welfare and environmental protection, so they introduce appropriate policies, which I think are appreciated by consumers – evaluates Paweł Rawicki.

Most consumers (60%) believe that shops, food producers, and restaurants should stop using eggs from cage farming. Nearly 70% positively evaluate the actions of companies deciding to give up this type of eggs.

A ban on cage farming would be costly for Polish producers, which could affect the price of eggs. As reported by VeloBank, egg prices in Poland have risen by more than 74% since 2015 (with an EU average of 51%).

– We see major changes in egg prices in recent years on the market in Poland and globally, but the biggest factor is not the farming system, but bird flu, for example, which requires flocks of laying hens to be culled. This leads to a smaller supply of eggs, which ultimately affects their price. The farming system is also a factor affecting the price of eggs in shops, but farmers and sellers have greater flexibility in terms of margins, so I think consumers do not notice these changes in the end – the expert believes. – At the same time, our public opinion surveys also show that Poles are willing to pay slightly more for eggs from alternative farming systems to have them raised more responsibly than in cage farming.

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