Morrisons has defended its egg sourcing policy after being stripped of a welfare award by Compassion in World Farming.

The campaign group announced earlier today it was removing Morrisons’ Good Egg Commendation – awarded in 2008 for its commitment to not sell eggs from caged hens under its own-label ranges.

CIWF said the retailer had started selling caged eggs under its M Savers own-label brand, a move director of food business Steve McIvor condemned as a “backward step”.

“We awarded Morrisons a Good Egg Commendation in good faith and would encourage Morrisons to reverse this decision and get back on the right track,” he said.

To achieve a Good Egg Commendation, CIWF said, recipients had to make a “life-time commitment” not to source caged eggs and a change in Morrisons’ policy represented a “retrograde step for animal welfare”.

But Morrisons said its policy on sourcing caged eggs had not changed. It had already been selling caged eggs but under a tertiary brand. Now it was simply selling them under the M Savers brand instead.

“The only change we are making is to sell caged eggs under the entry price point M Savers brand rather than under a different brand name,” a spokesman said.

“This allows us to take greater control of the egg supply chain. It also puts us in the best position to respond to customers on a budget while improving control of animal welfare.

“We were given the ‘Good Egg’ award by Compassion in World Farming for an approach we adopted in 2008 to move all own-brand eggs to free range systems. Our commitment to free-range eggs remains the same today except that eggs from caged hens, which have always been available in store, will now be in M Savers packaging.”

He added Morrisons remained a “strong supporter” of free-range eggs and pointed out the retailer had developed a specific animal welfare programme for laying hens – Nature’s Nest – which he said offered “the best welfare conditions on the market”.

Morrisons is not the only UK supermarket to sell caged eggs in its bottom-tier own-label range. Asda offers eggs from caged hens under its SmartPrice range and caged eggs are also available under Tesco’s Everyday Value brand.

None of the eggs used by British retailers come from battery cages, which have been outlawed across the EU since 1 January.