The organizers of the 2009 IEC Conference arranged a panel of EU experts to review progress in adoption of enriched colony cages. In 2008, 7% of the 278 million confined hens in the EU were housed in colony cages. Germany leads the nations of the EU in adoption of the system, referred to as Kleingruppenhaltung, which is translated as “housing in small groups.”

In contrast, Austria has banned colony cages, effective 2020. Sweden has allowed colony systems following the phasing out of conventional cages at the end of 2002. Belgium will ban conventional cages beginning in 2012, but will allow enriched colony cages through 2024.

Studies conducted on colony cages in the Netherlands showed more than 95% of eggs were laid in nest boxes, and 90% of the hens used perches at night. Evaluations of the behavior of hens in cages are still in progress, with attempts to correlate performance with activity of flocks in a small group. It is estimated egg production costs 10% more in colony cages compared to conventional cages. In the EU, there is no premium for eggs derived from colony systems as compared to free range and non-confined flocks.

The question arose at the conference asking if enriched colony cages will comply with emerging U.S. animal welfare guidelines including California Proposition #2 and the recently enacted law in Michigan. A reading of both items would appear to exclude colony cages.

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The HSUS and others regard a cage of any form as “confinement” and non-compliant with their position that hens must be able to “spread their wings without touching either side of an enclosure or another bird.” This provision would effectively eliminate colony cages and may extend to any non-confined barn system depending on interpretation. Advancing colony cages, as a means of appeasing the HSUS and PETA, will be futile, given abolition of intensive livestock production is the ultimate goal of these groups.