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Size and Structure

16. In 1995 there were about 32 million laying hens in the UK distributed among about 28,000 holdings. The industry has been moving steadily towards greater specialisation and larger units but with a continuing population of small poultry flocks often on mixed farms. There are several companies which own a million hens or more, and there is a large second group of egg producers with about 50,000 to 500,000 hens each. In 1995, 300 holdings with over 20,000 birds accounted for 73% of the UK flock. However, there were still 27,000 holdings with less than 5,000 birds each, accounting for about 8% of the UK flock (MAFF, 1996). Of eggs passing through registered packing stations, about 86% are produced by hens kept in laying cages; about 11% are free range; and 3% from perchery (barn) and other systems.

17. The RSPCA Freedom Food Scheme and the British Egg Industry Council Lion Code of Practice lay down standards of welfare for hens producing free range and barn eggs. Some other organisations are also developing their own quality assurance and welfare schemes. Producers are being encouraged or required, largely due to the influence of the supermarkets to meet the standards laid down by these bodies.