3 ‘Barn Laid’
Hens in barn laid housing systems are not confined in cages so in theory they can move around. However, high stocking densities restrict hens’ ability to move freely and exercise. Being confined indoors restricts hens’ ability to perform the normal behaviours that provide quality of life.
The RSPCA Approved system accredits egg farms to RSPCA standards. Barn laid eggs can be RSPCA Approved, therefore not all RSPCA Approved hens have access to an outdoor area. ‘Debeaking’ of hens is not prohibited under the RSPCA’s system.
Other claims on egg cartons
There are many other marketing terms used on egg cartons to imply higher welfare. These labels should be read discerningly. Terms such as ‘Vegetarian’, ‘Eco eggs’ and ‘Omega 3 eggs’ for example are not recognised descriptors that define the type of housing system or a level of welfare for hens. The term ‘Cage-free’ is also regularly used but it is important to note that these hens are raised in barns and do not have access to the outdoors. Likewise, don’t be fooled by clever imagery — some cartons may depict birds sitting on nests, or green rolling fields, but unless accompanied by an accreditation label, these images are most likely to be inaccurate.
4 Ethical concerns in all egg laying systems
It is important that consumers are aware that there are ethical and welfare issues common to all egg production systems — including free-range and organic.
All egg systems are faced with a universal ‘problem’ when it comes to the hatching of chicks raised for egg laying. Since only female chickens lay eggs, male chicks who have no commercial value to the egg industry are routinely gassed or ‘macerated’ (ground up alive). As a result, every year some 12 million male chicks are killed in the first day of their lives as waste products of the Australian egg industry.
Another common concern is the slaughter of layer hens years short of their natural life span. Hens will naturally live for around 10 years, but most layer hens in Australia are sent to slaughter as soon as they exceed their productive ‘use by date’. In all egg production systems, from cage to free range, hens are considered ‘spent’ from just 18 months old. Occasionally however, if it’s deemed commercially viable, hens in free-range systems will be kept on for another season which would extend their life for around 12 months — still well short of what nature intended.
Alternatives to eggs
As consumers become aware of the ethical issues relating to all egg laying systems, more and more are choosing egg replacement products which are readily available in supermarkets.