Unilever and Nestlé petition to phase out caged hens in Europe

29 Mar 2021

In a letter to the European Commission, major food titans called on the government to end the practice of raising hens in cages in the European agricultural sector. To accomplish this push, industry heavyweights Unilever and Nestlé partnered with the organization Compassion in World Farming (CIFW) on its End the Cage initiative alongside other food industry participants ALDI Nord, Barilla, Fattoria Roberti, Ferrero, Inter IKEA Group and Mondelez International.

According to the signatories, phasing out cages for egg laying hens is an economically feasible as well as a widespread choice for many producers. Since 2019, the majority of hens kept commercially in the EU have been in alternative systems, including barn, free range or organic conditions, the letter said. This transition is in line with consumer expectations. Data cited from Eurobarometer show that 94% of Europeans prioritize the importance of protecting farmed animal welfare.

Unilever and Nestlé petition to phase out caged hens in Europe
Image via jiangxulei1990 on Unsplash

Indeed, Nestlé is one of those businesses that has eliminated cages for hens. Just days before signing on to support the Compassion in World Farming initiative to entirely eliminate cage-free egg farming in Europe, the Swiss food giant announced it met its 2017 target of 100% cage-free eggs in all EU food products.

“We are proud to have achieved 100% cage-free eggs in our food products across Europe,” said Magdi Batato, Nestlé Executive Vice President and Head of Operations, in a statement.

Similarly, Unilever has used cage-free eggs in all its European brands since 2009.

However, Nestlé and Unilever are looking to take things a step further. Unilever pledged to eradicate cage-free egg farming from 100% of its global supply chain by 2025. Already the company has met this target in North America where it set a 2020 deadline for making this change. Nestlé also is striving to meet its own target to have 100% of the eggs in its global supply chain be cage-free by 2025.

In Europe alone, approximately 413.2 million laying hens produce 6.9 million tons of eggs or egg-related products annually. However, despite the general push toward cage-free lives for these hens, just 50.5 percent of these animals live cage-free, according to CIFW.

Nevertheless, the signatories on this letter to European MEPs noted that small changes from inside the industry are only the initial steps needed to improve animal welfare holistically.

“The revision of animal welfare legislation presents the ideal opportunity for a legal basis to end the use of cages in EU animal farming, starting with caged hens, and supporting farmers in the transition,” said the letter. “We are ready and willing to share our expertise and collaborate on achieving that goal.”

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