An animal welfare expert has warned producers that animal rights activists will target barn eggs once cage eggs have been eradicated.
In the UK major retailers have committed to using only cage-free eggs from 2025 - even though battery cages were banned as recently as 2012 and producers invested millions of pounds in converting to enriched cages.
Enriched production, too, is now being abandoned by big retailers, with barn destined to become the value egg.
But Peter Sandoe, a professor at Copenhagen University and a former advisor to the Danish Government on animal welfare, has warned the industry that barn eggs will be the next target.
He says the industry needs to be proactive and ready for this challenge
“If the business doesn't get a bit more proactive, the next time will be barn eggs,” Professor Sandoe said during a speech at the International Egg Commission Conference (IEC) in Copenhagen.
“Even though you develop nice aviaries, even though you have low mortality, good air quality - all the big information - they don't care.
“So if you are not careful, next time it will be barn eggs. As soon as they get rid of the cages all over, of course, the next stage will be no barn eggs, only free range.”
He said the concept of corporate social responsibility was now forcing change in the egg industry.
“You can see this worldwide,” he said. “Behind the scenes are some extremely smart NGOs, who go to these companies and say, 'OK, do you want us to be nasty all the time or do you want a peaceful solution?' Well, retailers and fast food restaurants say they want a peaceful solution.”
He said organisations like Compassion in World Farming had benchmarking schemes to show how well individual companies were doing.
“One of the things they mention is are you cage-free. If you are then, tick, you are up the scale.”
He said lots of companies had 'jumped on the bandwagon' and agreed to this because, for the companies, it was a 'win-win'.
“If you are a retailer you can end up having fewer eggs at a higher price.
“That would be stupid not to save shelf space and get a higher price and have the animal rights say you are a nice organisation,” Professor Sandoe said.
The UK's biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, announced in 2016 that it would go cage-free following an online petition started by a 14-year-old girl.