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Improve the environment, welfare and health of hens without damaging egg quality. This seems to be the message behind new legislation seeking to ban the conventional caging of chickens in order to produce healthier eggs. The conclusions of recent scientific studies point to the fact that hens moved from conventional cages to alternative systems, are more prone to contamination. With an annual volume of 13.8 million tonnes of eggs being consumed in the EU alone, that's a lot of potential poultry befoulment.


By 2012, Council Directive 1999/74/EC defining minimum standards for the welfare of laying hens will come into effect. This legislation's goal is to abolish conventional cage systems in favour of enriched cages or floor systems in order to improve the welfare of hens, thereby banning a practice that had concerned consumers about the ethics of egg production. RESCAPE's goal of high quality, safe eggs from new production systems is an important contribution to maintaining an evenly distributed European industry. Additionally, the project should help maintain the internal market share for EU eggs and egg products.

Different scientific panels have recently concluded that keeping hens on the floor or outside presents an increased risk of contamination due to a greater exposure to infectious agents or parasites. European citizens, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of food, and demand that it be free of biological and chemical contaminants. Therefore, EU legislation regarding animal welfare needs to be balanced by effective measures for reducing any risk of human contamination.


In order to counter any future contamination, RESCAPE is looking into different research areas. The project team aims to optimise enriched cage and aviary design by recording quantitative data for egg contamination, thereby minimising the risk factors in alternative systems. Researchers will look into the reinforcement of the natural antimicrobial and mechanical defence mechanisms of eggs, by identifying the genes involved and selecting hens with superior anti-microbial alleles. The project also plans to improve technology for egg grading in order to increase the detection of eggs with the greatest risk to the consumer. The development of innovative egg decontamination treatments using microwave, hot air and gas plasma sterilisation, and modified atmosphere packaging or chitosan, will also be scrutinised. Finally, scientists plan to study the reduction of veterinary drug residues in eggs by improving vaccine technology.

The development of economically viable methods should help producers and the poultry industry complete the transition to enriched cages or alternative production systems. This improvement will maintain and ensure consumer trust and confidence in European egg products. RESCAPE will also contribute by indirectly helping limit imports of low-cost eggs (which do not conform to the EU's high welfare standards).

Pablo Picasso once said, "When you start with a portrait and try to find pure form by abstracting more and more, you must end up with an egg." Researchers in the RESCAPE project will probably not be required to deliver a Picasso painting at the end of their work. But if, through their painstaking labour, they can help hens lay healthier eggs, they will certainly have produced a work of art.

List of Partners

  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • French Agency for Food Sanitary Safety (France)
  • Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (Belgium)
  • GLON (France)
  • INRA Transfert (France)
  • Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium)
  • Microwave Energy Application Company (Belgium)
  • Roslin Institute (UK)
  • University of Bologna (Italy)
  • University of Glasgow (UK)
  • University of Newcastle (UK)
  • University of Ottawa (Canada)
Full title:
Reducing egg susceptibility to contaminations in avian production in Europe
Contract n:
Project co-ordinator:
Yves Nys, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique,
EC Scientific Officer:
Jean-Charles Cavitte,
EU contribution:
€ 2M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top