This week marks British Egg Week, but the "cruelty" endured by caged chickens is still going largely ignored, a leading animal rights organisation has said.
With 33 million laying hens, the UK is the sixth largest egg producer in the European Union. Yet despite traditional battery cages being banned in 2012, the 'enriched' cages which replaced them are little better, Animal Aid said.
The new cages can house up to 80 hens, and the space per bird is not much bigger than an A4 sheet of paper.
An undercover investigation into a farm where birds were kept in ‘enriched' cages showed chickens in filthy, cramped conditions who were often missing feathers.
The footage even showed a dead hen lying in one of the cages and Animal Aid also said they witnessed beak "trimming" - a common practice that involves the tip of the beak being sliced off, usually with a red-hot blade.
Isobel Hutchinson, Animal Aid campaigner, said: "The public often seems to be under the impression that the suffering of egg-laying hens is a thing of the past.
"Many people are unaware of the cruelty of the egg industry, and would be shocked if they knew the truth."
The animal protection organisation said that, although barn, free-range and organic eggs do not come from caged hens, birds kept under these systems still live a "miserable existence".
Free-range hens are often kept in crowded sheds with limited outside access. Animal Aid said that research reveals that crowding can make it so difficult to leave the shed that only 15% of hens can be found outside at any one time.
Hens raised under organic systems can still be housed in groups of up to 3,000 and may have outside access for only a third of their lives.
Other "disturbing practices" in the egg industry include the killing of male chicks at just a few days old because they cannot be used for egg or meat production, the group said.
Animal Aid said that, while many people would not consciously buy eggs from caged hens, these are often "hidden" in products such as pasta, cakes and quiches.
With half of all eggs laid in the UK coming from hens who are permanently caged, the campaign group is urging the public to give up eggs ahead of next month's Great Vegan Challenge.
Ms Hutchinson added: "By taking part in Animal Aid's Great Vegan Challenge, members of the public can receive all the support they need to give up eggs, and other animal products, throughout November, which is World Vegan Month.
"It is free to take part, and participants will receive nutritional information, recipes, news about exclusive offers and events and access to an online forum for swapping tips and advice."
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