The aim of easing the burden on shoppers of rising egg prices is behind proposals to change the pace of the phase-out of battery hen cages.
The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee says the final date of the end of 2022 for removing all cages will not change. But it wants to extend the transition stages within that time frame.
This is because of fears that egg prices will rise sharply if the changeover is too abrupt.
Committee chairman John Hellstrom said an independent assessment suggested a "significant" disruption in the supply of eggs was "almost inevitable" if the first transition step of December 31, 2016 remained.
"In the short term it would mean eggs were less affordable, especially for low-income consumers for whom eggs represent an important source of high-quality protein."
The committee was committed to getting layer hens out of battery cages, Mr Hellstrom said.
"What's changing are the steps farmers take to get there. The changes will make it easier for farmers to adopt the new housing systems while minimising market disruptions."
The committee is seeking public consultation on the proposed changes to the Layer Hens Code of Welfare 2012. Under the changes, cages installed before December 31, 1999 will be replaced by December 31, 2018, and cages installed before December 31, 2001 are to be replaced by December 31, 2020.
Other proposed changes that will also help farmers involve stocking density in barns and fitting of claw-shortening devices in cages.
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