THE decades-long battle to ban battery hen farming has taken another turn with a call from the NFU for an "informed debate" on the introduction of so-called "enriched cages."
The UK poultry industry has already agreed to stop using traditional battery cages by 2012, which will cost the industry an estimated £431m in capital costs and around £109m in running costs each year.
But by then, producers were hoping to switch to bigger "enriched" cages which, they say, would give the laying hens a much more natural lifestyle - a claim hotly denied by many animal lovers.
The Government is now consulting on extending the ban further to include enriched cages, which would "devastate the industry," accord to the NFU.
The union wants an "informed" national debate on the subject, pointing out that 70% of all eggs sold in the UK still come from caged birds. If the practice were banned here totally, says the union, the Government would have to introduce tight import controls to prevent our market being flooded by eggs produced by caged birds abroad.