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ISPCA highlight cruelty of intensive laying hen farming

Where do your eggs really come from?

18th April 2019

This Easter, the ISPCA is asking consumers to think about where their eggs come from. 

The ISPCA is working with Eurogroup for Animals and Compassion in World Farming to highlight animal welfare issues for laying hens and other animals that are intensively farmed in cages through an “End the Cage Age” exhibition in Dublin’s CHQ building, 1 Custom House Quay, North Dock, Dublin from 18th - 23rd April 2019. 

Over 300 million farmed animals in Europe at any one time – including more than two million in Ireland— spend all, or a significant part of their lives in cages—from egg-laying hens in so-called ‘enriched’ cages, to mink being farmed for their fur in small barren cages. These animals are confined, restricted and prevented from carrying out their natural behaviours.

So far the End the Cage Age campaign, European Citizen’s Initiative has the support of over 700,000 EU citizens, including close to 7,000 in Ireland. However, there is still more work to be done before the one-year deadline. That is why the ISPCA has brought this exhibition to Dublin, which will provide information to members of the public about the living conditions of intensively farmed animal, in particular laying hens, in Ireland and across Europe. 

In Ireland, over three million egg laying hens are farmed per year, and over half of them, nearly 1.9 million (54%) are caged. In these conditions, each bird has a space only slightly larger than an A4 sheet of paper. So-called “enriched” cages fail to meet a range of hens’ behavioural needs. In often overcrowded conditions they continue to have a lack of space to exercise, fly, flap their wings, or dust-bathe. In the cages hens are unable to perch up high to rest or to go outside to scratch in the ground and breathe fresh air.

Many Irish consumers are not aware that all shell eggs must be labelled to show where the hens have been kept, for example in barns, cages, free range or organic farms under current EU legislation.  Egg producers and retailers are required to label their egg packaging which is displayed on the inside of all egg cartons.  How a hen has lived and laid her eggs must be stamped. The number 1 means that the egg is free range, 2 means originating from a barn, 3 for caged hens and 0 (zero) for organic.  

The ISPCA is calling on Irish consumers to consider the welfare of the animals and are asking the public to make informed, cruelty free choices.

ISPCA CEO Dr Andrew Kelly said: “The End the Cage Age initiative is the single biggest and most collaborative animal welfare campaign to be launched in this generation. Over 140 animal welfare organisations across Europe are participating, and we are incredibly close to one million EU Citizens supporting a cage-free future for farm animals.”

Dr Kelly added: “The ISPCA opposes any system of husbandry which denies animals the freedom to exhibit natural behaviours. Animals should have a good quality of life and a life worth living. They should be afforded a life free from the cruelty of cages, and that is why the ISPCA is supporting the End the Cage Age ECI initiative with this exhibition.” 

The exhibition is part of the ISPCA’s continued support for an “End the Cage Age” European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) which was launched in September 2018. The initiative aims to end the use of cages for farmed animals across Europe. 

The ISPCA is also calling for the Irish government to introduce a legislative ban or phase out of the use of cages for laying hens by 2025. In the government’s new animal welfare strategy, launched by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in October 2018, all farmed animals should have a good quality of life and a life worth living. This goes beyond the Five Freedoms concept with which we are more familiar. 

Over 1.9 million laying hens in Ireland live their entire life in cages, do not have the ability to express normal behaviours and have a limited quality of life and whether they have a life worth living is questionable. Keeping laying hens in cages for their entire life is incompatible with the government’s own animal welfare strategy. 


Many retailers have already gone cage free for both shell eggs and eggs used in other products, including Tesco, McDonalds, Aldi and Lidl. Recently, Iceland in Ireland committed to exclusivelyselling cage free fresh shell eggs by 2025 following a meeting with ISPCA.

The ISPCA hopes that all retailers throughout Ireland and the EU will commit to exclusively selling only free range, barn or organic eggs by 2025. The ISPCA will be campaigning on this issue in conjunction with Eurogroup for Animals, the EU’s largest animal welfare advocacy organisation, of which the ISPCA is a member.



What is a European Citizen’s Initiative? 
A European Citizen’s Initiative is a powerful way to influence European lawmakers. 
It is a participatory democratic instrument that allows citizens to suggest concrete legal changes in any field where the European Commission has power to propose legislation, such as the environment, agriculture, energy, transport or trade.
An initiative enables citizens from different member states to come together around an issue close to their heart with a view to influencing EU policy-making.
To launch an initiative, it takes seven EU citizens, living in at least seven different Member States who are old enough to vote. Once an initiative gathers 1 million signatures with minimum thresholds reached in at least seven countries, the European Commission must decide whether or not to take action.
The rules and procedures governing the citizens' initiative are set out in an EU Regulation adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union in February 2011.
Learn more here 

Why does the petition ask for so much personal data? 
A European Citizen's Initiative is a powerful tool that will compel the European Commission to take action. For this reason, each member state needs to validate all names during a three-month period after signature collection has ended. The signature collection website has been certified according to EU regulations to ensure all personal data will be stored securely. User details will only be used for confirming participation and will be deleted after validation.  For more information about the European Citizen's Initiative and data requirements, visit

Why it’s time to END THE CAGE AGE for laying hens in Ireland and the rest of the EU
• Cages:  Hens in so-called ‘enriched’ cages still spend their entire egg-laying lives confined in a cage.  Over 50% of the EU’s 400 million hens in commercial units are farmed this way.
• Minimal space: Enriched cages provide only 75cm2 per hen; a little more than the area of an A4 sheet of paper.  Minimum cage height is only 45cm
• Behavioural restriction:  Hens still cannot freely run, fly, forage in the ground, dust-bathe, or experience fresh air or sunlight.
• Average hen size:  Wingspan: 76cm; height: 25cm – 38cm


Enriched – BAD

Severely limits natural behaviours such as exercising and dust-bathing.  Each hen has only slightly more space than an A4 sheet of paper.

Barns – BETTER

Allow for some natural behaviours such as foraging, scratching and dust-bathing.

Free Range – EVEN BETTER

Allow a range of behaviours with access to outdoor pasture and sufficient room for exercise.

Organic – BEST

Allow a full range of behaviours with access to outdoor pasture and room for exercise.


Download the End the Cage Age Report here

For more information, download the Eurogroup for Animals ‘Optimising Laying Hen Welfare in Cage-Free Systems’ – working towards a smooth transition in European egg production, based on a technical report by AgraCEAS Consulting here

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