Richard Willingham

Premier Denis Napthine has angered animal rights groups by saying he has no objection to eggs from caged hens, if the birds have "appropriate welfare conditions".

The caged eggs industry is under significant pressure, with Woolworths phasing out the products in all its stores by 2018. On Thursday the ACT became the first jurisdiction where the supermarket giant will no longer stock caged eggs.

Woolworths will also ban the use of caged eggs in any of its branded products. The company says non-caged eggs account for more than half of all eggs sold, increasing their market share every year. 

And this week a Warrandyte IGA banned all caged eggs from its store in a stand against animal cruelty. 

The Premier, who was a vet before entering politics, told radio station 3AW on Friday morning he had no objection to the practise. 

"I have no objection to caged eggs and certainly if you are looking at cost of living, caged eggs are usually significantly cheaper than other eggs," Dr Napthine said.

"As long as there is appropriate welfare conditions for the animals, there are standards and rules about making sure that the space provided for the birds is appropriate to their welfare and their health. And if that is met then I have no problems."

Dr Napthine said he personally preferred farm fresh eggs because they were nicer and had a more golden yolk. 

Animal rights groups are furious. RSPCA chief executive Heather Neil said in no circumstances was confinement in a cage acceptable to the welfare of the hen.

She said there was lots of research that showed cages did not meet hens' instinctive and behavioural needs because hens could not stretch their wings, could not lay eggs in a nest, or have a dust bath.

"Australian supermarkets don't make decisions about what they have on their shelves lightly, it is in response to consumer preferences and demands and Australian consumers are clearly wanting to move away from confined hens in cages," Ms Neil said.

Animals Australia spokeswoman Lisa Chalk said the Premier was out of step with the public.

"The Premier's comments are out of step with community views on animal welfare, which even retailers are acknowledging by phasing out their support of cage eggs," Ms Chalk said.

"It's not only the community that has determined battery cages are cruel but internationally respected scientists have concluded this, which is why the barren battery cage has been banned in the EU."

The Victorian Farmers Federation supports both the caged and free-range egg industries. 

The Australian Veterinary Association's policy is that commercial egg production systems should provide for the health, nutrition, and psychological wellbeing of the hens.

"Continuing scientific research into hen welfare in different production systems under Australian conditions is essential," the policy says.