Woolworths has announced it will stop selling caged eggs in response to animal welfare concerns from customers.

The supermarket chain says it will gradually phase out the controversial products by 2018.

Caged egg suppliers will have until then to change their farming practices or lose their place on supermarket shelves.

Woolworths will also move to RSPCA or equivalent approved standards for all fresh chicken sold in-store by the end of this year.

Woolworths' head of sustainability Armineh Mardirossian says customers are increasingly choosing to buy free-range eggs.

But the changes will only apply to caged whole eggs.

'We're going to phase out, over the next five years, caged eggs from our stores and also the use of caged eggs in our own brand products," Ms Mardirossian said.

"The commitment for 2018 is to phase out use of caged eggs, so we'll be using cage-free eggs in the production of our own brand. So anything that is Woolworths-branded would be using cage-free eggs."

The move is part of a partnership with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

RSPCA Senior Scientific Officer Melina Tensen has praised Woolworths's decision.

"Battery cages are cruel for hens; they don't offer an opportunity for birds to perch or dust bathe or indeed lay their eggs in a nest."

The move is likely to trigger a price rise as cage-free eggs are more expensive to produce.

Cage-free eggs are more expensive to produce but Ms Tensen says consumers have shown they are willing to pay more for peace of mind.

"I think what we've seen over the last couple of years is increasing consumer awareness about how their food is produced," she said.

"More consumers want to know what's happening on farms for the animals being raised for food - in this case hens being kept for egg production - and more and more consumers are looking for higher welfare products."

Earlier this week consumer rights advocate CHOICE complained that shoppers were still being misled when buying eggs.

Spokeswoman Angela McDougall says sales of free-range eggs make up 40 per cent of the market, but no one is really sure what they are getting.

"Consumers have been showing a willingness to pay a premium for a higher welfare product and we believe there are probably a lot of genuine products out there," she said.

"But unfortunately it's by the Egg Corporation's own admission that we know that a lot of producers are producing these eggs with standards that probably don't meet consumer expectations."

John Groenewold, from the Tasmanian Commercial Egg Producers' Association, says if the required changes become too expensive there could be a shortage of eggs.

"It'll be a commercial decision for the producers involved whether they will rise to that challenge or whether they'll just say: 'nup, someone else can do it'," he said.

"We're talking about a very big change and ... no one knows how that's going to impact. It is still early days."

Woolworths' main competitor Coles announced last year it would stop selling company-branded caged eggs.

 

Advertisement