Sustainability and animal welfare in animal agriculture have been increasingly deliberated in the Chinese livestock industry. Nevertheless, most Chinese egg farms adopt conventional battery cages and the discussion about transitioning from conventional battery cages to cage-free systems (CFS) only started recently within the country. Little is known about Chinese egg producers’ views on and intentions for this transition, which hinders the transition and improvement of welfare for billions of laying hens.
This research project aims to explore Chinese egg producers’ views on CFS and their willingness to change to CFS. Based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour, this study investigated egg producers’ assessment of the outcomes of using CFS, their perceived social pressure of changing from important stakeholders and the challenges they encountered to change to CFS on their farms. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with eight production managers from medium to large intensive laying hen farms using conventional battery cages.
Results suggested that Chinese conventional cage egg producers defined animal welfare as biological functioning and they had negative attitudes towards CFS as they risk hen health as well as reduce productivity, profitability, and food safety. Moreover, except for some international food business companies, interviewed producers did not report any pressure from the government, consumers, agricultural advisors, and animal welfare organisations. This study also highlights some barriers that impede conversion to CFS: perceived consumers’ unwillingness to pay, absence of trustworthy food certification and labelling systems, a lack of land space, restrictions of environmental protection policies and difficulty of managing CFS.
These findings indicate that ensuring price premiums through marketing cage-free eggs is a strategy that is most likely to facilitate the transition to CFS in the Chinese egg production industry. The results also inform the policymakers and animal welfare organisations that trustworthy food certification and labelling schemes are integral to the egg industry-based transition from conventional battery cages to cage-free systems in China.