On The Road To Cage-Free In Spain
Hens raised in cages are unable to perform natural behaviors or to have ordinary social relationships. Because of the cruelty of keeping hens confined to such small spaces, many animal advocates have prioritized pushed for hens to be freed from cages. In recent years, this campaign has been remarkably successful. A recent study reviews the current state of the cage-free egg movement in Spain.
The European Union as a whole is taking steps towards ending cages. By 2027, the European Commission plans to ban the use of cages for hens, lactating sows, calves, rabbits, ducks, geese, and other animals. Countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic already have cage bans in place specifically for egg-laying hens, although some have yet to fully implement the bans.
Leading food companies in the E.U. have sent a letter to the European Commission arguing that the E.U. should phase out cages. In their letter, they acknowledged that “cage-free systems are widespread, economically viable, and provide better living conditions for hens.” Companies that signed the anti-cage letter include:
- Barilla Group
- Fattoria Roberti
- Jamie Oliver Group
- Le Groupement Les Mousquetaires
- Mondelēz International
Spain is an important egg producer. It ranks third in egg production volume in the European Union. The number of so-called “poultry farms” in Spain has been increasing significantly in recent years. In 2020, there were 47.1 million laying hens, a 3% increase compared to 2019. In January 2021, the total number of laying poultry farms was 1,821, a 4% increase from 2019. However, the percentage of farms with cages went down from 60.5% in 2013 to 36.7% in 2020.
Large companies that can afford to make big investments control egg production in Spain. In 2020, they invested more than 170 million euros in converting the facilities towards alternative cage-free systems, without raising prices for consumers. Therefore, the number of farms using alternative systems increased by 4% from 2019 to 2020. The investments will continue into the future. The main poultry producers in Spain have also allocated more than 216 million euros between 2019-2023 to transition to cage-free systems. According to the report, Huevos Guillén, a leading company in the laying poultry sector in Spain, is leading this effort.
Because of public opposition to cages, major food companies have also committed to stop sourcing eggs from caged hens. Supermarkets such as Carrefour, Eroski, Lidl, and Aldi, among others, already use exclusively cage-free eggs in their products or have committed to do so by 2025.
To identify opinions on policies set to improve animal welfare, the non-profit organization Equalia commissioned a national survey in Spain. The survey asked more than 6,000 Spanish citizens if they think caged hens should be banned in the European Union.
Two out of three citizens (67%) were in favor of banning, while 20% were against it. Only 7% of citizens were clearly against banning cages with 13% moderately opposed. The cities of Madrid and Barcelona were most opposed to caged hens, with 73% of the population wanting to eradicate them. Interestingly, people of all ages, education levels, and political beliefs were equally likely to support a ban on cages. However, it was noted that women were more supportive of the measure, with 73% of women in favor of the ban compared to 60% of men.
Preliminary evidence suggests that support for a ban on caging hens is increasing over time. In 2021, Equalia had commissioned a survey in the cities of Catalonia and Valencia. Compared to the previous survey, there was a 10% increase in support in Catalonia and a 5% increase in Valencia.
This is promising news for animal advocates. To keep the momentum going, Spanish advocates can use this data to continue pushing producers and suppliers to improve conditions for farmed animals. Meanwhile, advocates in the rest of the world can keep their eyes on what’s happening in Spain in order to inform their own advocacy.