Just as British egg producers are preparing for new cage legislation in advance of an EU-wide ban in 2012, Klaus Torborg of Lohmann Animal Health addressed leading UK producers in Shropshire and spoke about Germany’s experience.

According to Torborg, the German industry delayed converting its systems. As a result, many producers have been forced out of production. The number of layers dropped 18% from 40 million to around 33 million, and self-sufficiency in eggs fell from 70% to 55%. (In U.S. terms this would represent a reduction of 50 million hens from the current population.) It is estimated that with a per capita consumption of 207 eggs and a population of 82.5 million, a total flock of 62 million hens would be required to satisfy demand.

Imports have flooded in from other countries, particularly Holland, which has been quicker to convert its systems.

Torborg said Germany was over-eager in complying with EU policy and required enriched cages to be installed three years before it became necessary under EU law. But when the government changed to a conservative administration this was not repealed, so the efforts of producers who had installed enriched cages were not rewarded. Their eggs were labeled as "Class 3," the same as those from standard cages, he explained.

Another big influence on the industry has been discount supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto. The discounters now account for about 47% of all eggs sold in Germany and, for marketing/animal welfare reasons, will not sell eggs from enriched cages. Most egg producers, despite high investment in enriched cages, will have to convert to the barn system, he said.

Cage houses converted to the barn system hold far fewer birds due to lower stocking density, so many producers are additionally faced with putting up new buildings if they wish to maintain their hen numbers.