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Large eggs 'cause hens more stress'

PUBLISHED: 14:53 15 March 2009 | UPDATED: 08:30 28 March 2014

MARCH 13, 2009: Consumers have been urged to avoid buying large eggs because hens suffer stress and pain while laying them, according to warnings endorsed by animal welfare experts.

Larger eggs are preferred by shoppers seeking better value, a trend reflected in higher premiums paid by retailers to producers who can supply larger eggs.

Tom Vesey, chairman of the British Free Range Producers' Association and an egg producer who keeps 16,000 hens in Gwent said it "can be painful to the hen" to lay a larger egg.

He also suggested medium-sized eggs tasted better and that two such eggs would make a better breakfast than a single large one.

He told The Times: "There is also the stress, which is a big problem as it takes more out of hens to lay large eggs. It would be kinder to eat smaller eggs. Whenever I go to the Continent people eat medium-sized eggs yet here the housewife seems to be wedded to large eggs."

Mr Vesey claimed farmers receive 77p from supermarkets for a dozen medium eggs, £1 for large and just over £1 for very large.

Although his views are not shared by everyone in his industry, they have been endorsed by Phil Brooke, of Compassion in World Farming, who said: "Selectively breeding hens for high productivity, whether larger eggs or larger numbers of eggs, can cause a range of problems such as osteoporosis, bone breakage and prolapse. We need to breed and feed hens so that they can produce eggs without risk to their health or welfare."
 
Christine Nicol, Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Bristol, said: "There is no strong published evidence of pain in egg-laying hens but it's not unreasonable to think there may be a mismatch in the size of birds and the eggs they produce. We do often spot bloodstains on large eggs. As a personal decision I would never buy jumbo eggs."

Mr Vesey believes farmers might make more profit from producing medium eggs because of lower levels of breakages compared to larger eggs that have thinner shells.

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