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Council Directive 1999/74/EC, adopted in 1999, distinguishes three types of rearing systems for laying hens:

  • enriched cages where laying hens have at least 750 cm² of cage area per hen;
  • non enriched cage systems where hens have at least 550 cm² of cage area per hen. From 1 January 2003 onwards such cagesmay not be built anymore or utilised for the first time. By January 2012 at the latest this system must be prohibited;
  • non-cage systems with nests (at least one for 7 hens), adequate perches and where the stocking density does not exceed 9 laying hens per m² usable area.
The hens kept in the enriched cage systems and the non-cage systems must also have a nest, perching space of 15cm per hen, litter to allow pecking and scratching and unrestricted access to a feed trough measuring at least 12cm per hen in the cage.

Article 7 of the Directive provides that all egg production units must be registered with the competent authorities in Member States. They must each have a distinguishing number which will be used to trace eggs back to the farm where they were produced. The arrangements for registrations laid out in Commission Directive 2002/4/EC have been adopted by the Commission after consultation of the veterinary representatives of the Member States.

Article 10 of the Directive provides that the Commission shall submit to the Council a report on the various systems of rearing laying hens. The Commission adopted this report on 8 January 2008. It details a number of independent scientific and socio-economic studies which lend support to the upcoming ban on unenriched cages.

The report was drawn up taking into account an EFSA opinion on this subject, a specific socio-economic study and a Community-funded research project ("LAYWEL") which investigated the welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens.