Free-range hens in a yard© Wayne Hutchinson /FLPA/imageBROKER-REX/Shutterstock

BBC Sunday evening staple, Countryfile, tackled the caged-egg debate in its latest programme (16 October).

Presenter Tom Heap gathered a range of opinions from the poultry industry as well as campaigners and academics about retailers’ recent move to phase out the sale of colony-produced eggs.

See also: How to plant trees to benefit free-range poultry farms

Mr Heap first visited chairman of the NFU’s poultry board, Duncan Priestner, who explained his business had invested £3.5m in 2009 to convert from battery to enriched colony cages.

Mr Priestner said he felt “despair” at the prospect of pulling out the units before they had been paid for.

The feature then turned to 15-year-old Lucy Gavaghan, who petitioned Tesco and others to end the sale of caged eggs.

Premium

Later in the programme, Mr Heap visited South West free-range farmer Martin Ford, who said the move to cage free could undermine the premium paid for his eggs.

“Up until now, because we have been a niche market, and seen as a speciality egg, we can get a small premium,” Mr Ford added. 

“We’re now going to be at the bottom of the ladder, we’re going to be the commodity.”

Mr Ford explained he feared the change could be a threat to the sustainability of his business.

Finally, Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at the University of Bristol, highlighted that caged hens have lower risk of disease and predation – but a higher potential to exhibit natural behaviour, meaning the debate was not quite as straightforward as often thought. 

The feature served to highlight what a divisive issue caged eggs can be, with Twitter users commenting both in support of, and against, caged hens.