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Protection of laying hens

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Protection of laying hens

The European Union (EU) establishes minimum standards for the welfare of laying hens kept in various systems of rearing in order to protect the hens and prevent distortions of competition between producers in different Member States.


Council Directive 1999/74/EC of 19 July 1999 laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens [See amending act(s)].


This Directive establishes minimum standards for the protection of laying hens. It does not apply to establishments with fewer than 350 laying hens or establishments rearing breeding laying hens.

The rearing of laying hens must comply with the relevant provisions laid down by Directive 98/58/EC relating to the protection of farmed animals and with those laid down in the Annex to this Directive.

Alternative systems

From 1 January 2002, all newly built or rebuilt alternative systems of production and all such systems of production brought into use for the first time must comply with the following requirements:

  • all systems must be equipped with:
    • either linear feeders (at least 10 cm per hen) or circular feeders (at least 4 cm per hen),
    • either continuous drinking troughs (2.5 cm per hen) or circular drinking troughs (1 cm per hen),
    • at least one nest for every seven hens,
    • adequate perches (at least 15 cm per hen),
    • and at least 250 cm2 of littered area per hen;
  • the floors of installations must support each of the forward-facing claws of each foot;
  • there are special provisions on systems of rearing allowing hens to move freely and/or permitting access to outside runs;
  • the stocking density must not exceed nine laying hens per m2 of usable area (however, where the usable area corresponds to the available ground surface, a stocking density of 12 hens per m2 is authorised until 31 December 2011 for those establishments applying this system on 3 August 1999).

Member States are to ensure that these requirements apply from 1 January 2007.

Rearing in unenriched cage systems

From 1 January 2003, all unenriched cages must comply with the following requirements:

  • at least 550 cm2 of cage area must be provided for each hen;
  • a feed trough (of a length of at least 10 cm multiplied by the number of hens), which may be used without restriction must be provided;
  • each cage must have an appropriate drinking system;
  • cages must be at least 40 cm high over 65 % of the cage area and not less than 35 cm at any point;
  • floors of cages must be constructed so as to support the claws of each foot. If the floor is on a slope, this must not exceed 14 % or 8 % except where the floor is made of a material other than wire mesh;
  • cages must be fitted with suitable claw-shortening devices.

With effect from 1 January 2003, no unenriched cages may be built or brought into service for the first time. This type of rearing system is prohibited with effect from 1 January 2012.

Rearing in enriched cages

From 1 January 2002, all enriched cages must comply at least with the following requirements:

  • each laying hen must have:
    • at least 750 cm2 of cage,
    • a nest,
    • litter such that pecking and scratching are possible,
    • appropriate perches of at least 15 cm;
  • a feed trough that may be used without restriction must be provided. Its length must be at least 12 cm multiplied by the number of hens in the cage;
  • each cage must have an appropriate drinking system;
  • there must be a minimum aisle width of 90 cm between tiers of cages and a space of at least 35 cm must be allowed between the floor of the building and the bottom tier of cages;
  • cages must be fitted with suitable claw-shortening devices.

Final provisions

The competent authority must register the establishments covered by the Directive and give them a distinguishing number that ensures the traceability of eggs placed on the market for human consumption.

Member States must ensure that inspections are carried out under the responsibility of the competent authority to check that the provisions of the Directive are complied with. They must submit a report on the inspections to the Commission, which must then inform the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.

Veterinary experts from the Commission may, where necessary for the uniform application of the current Directive, carry out on-the-spot checks in cooperation with the competent authorities. The findings of those checks are discussed with the competent authorities, which then take any measures revealed to be necessary by the checks.

Not later than 1 January 2005, the Commission must have submitted to the Council a report, drawn up on the basis of an opinion from the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, on the different systems of rearing taking account of the requirements for the welfare of hens and the socio-economic implications of those systems. The report must have covered the negotiations within the World Trade Organisation and must have been accompanied by appropriate proposals. The Council must have acted by a qualified majority on those proposals no later than 12 months after their submission.

Member States had until 1 January 2002 to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions, including any penalties, necessary to comply with the Directive and must forthwith have informed the Commission thereof. In addition, they may have maintained or applied within their territories more stringent provisions than those envisaged by the Directive.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 1999/74/EC



OJ L 203, 3.8.2009

Amending Act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 806/2003



OJ L 122, 16.5.2003


Commission Directive 2002/4/EC of 30 January 2002 on the registration of establishments keeping laying hens, covered by Council Directive 1999/74/EC [Official Journal L 30 of 31 January 2002].

Member States must have established a system for registering every production site covered by Directive 1999/74/EC. The information required for registration included the person responsible for the laying hens, the owner and the distinguishing number. Establishments must have been registered by 31 May 3003. From 1 June 2003, establishments that are not registered may no longer continue nor begin to operate.

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 8 January 2007 on the various systems of rearing laying hens in particular those covered by Directive 1999/74/EC [COM(2007) 865 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

Council Directive 2013/64/EU of 17 December 2013 amending Council Directives 91/271/EEC and 1999/74/EC, and Directives 2000/60/EC, 2006/7/EC, 2006/25/EC and 2011/24/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, following the amendment of the status of Mayotte with regard to the European Union [Official Journal L 353 of 28.12.2013].

Last updated: 06.06.2014