The government has set minimum standards for three methods of egg production to promote a more humane treatment of hens, even if it could result in higher egg prices, the Council of Agriculture said.
The council said in a statement yesterday that egg producers using a “cage” system, in which hens are continuously housed in cages, should allow each hen space of at least 750cm2, which is just more than the area covered by an A4 piece of paper.
Hens raised in a “cage-free” system, which means the hens are housed in sheds or have access to an outdoor floor, should be given an average of more than 800cm2, the council said.
Egg producers using a “free-range” production system, where hens can roam freely in indoor barns or covered chicken coops, must provide an indoor space averaging more than 800cm2 per hen.
Producers can voluntarily apply the new rules and receive certification from industry groups and animal protection groups, which will foster a consumer market for “animal-friendly” eggs that cost more than those produced using conventional means, the council said.
The promotion of the three more animal-friendly systems will take longer than initially expected, the council said, because roughly 95 percent of the nation’s eggs still come from hens confined in “battery” cages, which are lined up in rows and share dividing walls, like battery cells.
A battery-cage egg costs about NT$2 to NT$3, much less than the average of NT$6 to NT$10 consumers pay for a free-range egg, according to local media reports.
The council said it has consulted similar initiatives carried out in the US, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, where animal welfare is promoted, to develop the standards.
According to a study released in October last year by the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University, specialty eggs represent a niche worth examining because of an increased attention to consumers’ health, environmental concerns and animal welfare issues.
Organic eggs, free-range eggs, cage-free eggs and omega-3 eggs are some examples of niches that are of interest and have experienced growth in the US marketplace, the center said.
The EU has banned the sale of eggs from hens kept in battery cages since Jan. 1, 2012.