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All Icelandic Laying Hens Freed From Cages

Following a regulation that was first put in place in 2015 and finally went into effect last summer, all Icelandic laying hens are now free of spending their entire lives in cages.

European regulations on the upkeep of laying hens specifies two forms that are permitted: enriched cages, wherein 750 cm2 of space is provided per hen, or alternative systems where laying hens have a “stocking density” that does not exceed nine hens per square metre. In both cases, all hens must be provided with “a nest, perching space, litter to allow pecking and scratching and unrestricted access to a feed trough and drinking device.”

No more cages

Iceland uses the latter system, as outlined in Article 22 of the existing regulation on poultry, but Article 23 allows for enriched cages.

In a conversation with Iceland Review, Brigitte Brugger, who is a veterinary officer for poultry diseases at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), clarified that no Icelandic farmers use cages anymore; neither the old ones nor the enriched cages allowed for in the regulations. Enriched cages are being phased out in Europe for a variety of reasons, and Icelandic farmers have opted not to use them but to instead utilise the alternative system.

Difference between free range and organic

RÚV reports that there are some 200,000 laying hens in Iceland, and they are now all free from cages. There were several delays over the course of the years to put this regulation into effect, in particular two egg farms that had not yet made the change from cages to the alternative system. After the regulation went into effect about six months ago, all Icelandic laying hens are now freely roaming in poultry houses.

These hens are described as “lausagöngu“, which literally means “roaming freely”, but it bears pointing out that they do so within specialised housing; not outdoors. Brigitte Brugger told Iceland Review that only organic hens roam outdoors, and even then special safeguards are needed to be put in place to protect them from bird flu.

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