The science is in: battery cages are out!

Copyright: photootohp / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: photootohp / 123RF Stock Photo

The poor welfare of battery caged hens is caused by the cages themselves, and Australia is falling behind the developed world in failing to end their use.

These are among the findings of a comprehensive scientific report compiled by RSPCA Australia, which found overwhelming evidence that hens in battery cages live with frustration and suffering due to not being able to walk, flap or stretch their wings, perch, nest, forage, or dust bathe.

RSPCA Australia CEO Heather Neil said the charity had little choice but to conduct its own review, after it became clear the draft Standards—currently being updated for the first time in 15 years—were failing to reflect the science that clearly shows the animal welfare issues caused by battery cages.

“RSPCA Australia has taken the initiative to properly examine the impact of different cage and cage-free housing systems on the welfare of the birds,” said Neil.

“While no layer hen housing system is perfect, battery cages simply cannot meet the welfare needs of hens, and this is inherent to the battery cage system.”

The report, The Welfare of Layer Hens in Cage and Cage-Free Housing Systems, comes with the revelation that the draft of Australia’s new national Standards for the egg industry will allow the continued use of battery cages, despite irrefutable scientific evidence of the harm they cause.

If the draft Standards fail to phase out battery cages, this could see more than 200 million layer hens suffering in these conditions over the next 20 years.

“Producers and consumers have a right to expect that even these minimum standards for livestock production will be based on the best available science and knowledge, and currently, that’s not happening,” said Neil.

“The scientific evidence is clear and the community’s concerns and expectations should no longer be ignored—the government must act to legislate a phase-out of battery cages now.”

The Welfare of Layer Hens in Cage and Cage-Free Housing Systems, which will shortly be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, draws together scientific research from Australia and overseas.

It found battery-caged hens suffer the poorest bone and muscle strength of all housing systems and the highest number of fractures at the end of their lives, as well as a number of diseases resulting from the restrictive environment.

Battery cages are prohibited from use in the United Kingdom, the European Union, Switzerland, and some states in the US; while New Zealand, Canada and other states in the US are currently phasing them out.

For more on cage eggs, see our feature Caged in from the August issue of Vet Practice magazine.

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