Background 1. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) was established in 1979. Its terms of reference are to keep under review the welfare of farm animals on agricultural land, at market, in transit and at the place of slaughter, and to advise Agriculture Ministers of any legislative or other changes that may be necessary. The Council has the freedom to consider any topic falling within this remit. Our membership is at Appendix A. 2. FAWC has published three other reports concerning the welfare of hens: an Assessment of Egg Production Systems (1986); Advice to Ministers on the Handling and Transport of Poultry (1990); and The Welfare of Laying Hens in Colony Systems (1991). 3. The House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture noted in its 1994 report on the UK Poultry Industry that FAWC had not produced a detailed report about the welfare of hens in battery cage systems. This, coupled with the fact that the European Commission planned to review the welfare of hens kept in various systems with a view to making proposals for changes to the relevant EU legislation, prompted the Council to commence a study of UK systems of egg production and to assess these on the basis of hen welfare. Accordingly, a working group of FAWC members was established and asked to provide advice to the Council. This report summarises the outcome of our study and makes recommendations to GB Agriculture Ministers. Method of Investigation 4. The working group carried out an extensive consultation exercise, obtained oral and written evidence from a wide range of experts and carefully examined scientific data. Visits were made to a number of egg producers, both large and small, and meetings were held with representatives from industry, research bodies and from animal protection societies. 5. Those who gave evidence and information are listed at Appendix B and we would like to thank all who participated. In particular, the Council is indebted to Mr Arnold Elson of ADAS who attended the working group meetings and visits and provided expert advice. 6. The study examined three main types of production system: cages (including enrichment), free range and other alternative systems. Each type was considered in its own right and no attempt was made to compare systems. Philosophy of Approach 7. The welfare of an animal includes both its physical and mental state and we believe that good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being. Any animal kept by man must, at least, be protected from unnecessary suffering. 8. FAWC believes that the welfare of an animal whether on-farm, in transit, at market or at place of slaughter should be considered with reference to the "Five Freedoms". These freedoms define ideal states rather than attempt to define standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for the analysis of welfare within any system, together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare within the proper constraints of an efficient livestock industry. FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour. FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY AND DISEASE - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind. FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering. 9. The Council has considered how those with responsibility for the care of livestock can help to ensure that these freedoms can be provided. It concluded that those in charge of livestock should practice: caring and responsible planning and management; skilled, knowledgeable and conscientious stockmanship; appropriate environmental design; considerate handling and transport; and humane slaughter. These general requirements and the Five Freedoms can be applied to the keeping of laying hens; this approach formed the background to our study.