The hen on this postcard is Felicity, the ex-battery hen pictured on my first blog. Here she is, striding out confidently, just six months after her rescue from a life in hell.
The enriched cage – you can help abolish it
The footage below of enriched cages, obtained secretly by Hillside Animal Sanctuary in 2012, is only around two minutes long – towards the end you’ll hear a harsh clattering sound, made by the hens moving around on the metal grid flooring, and scrambling over slippery, unsuitable metal perches. Note too how the perches take up the space on the cage floor. And, in case you’re wondering: the orange plastic strips are “nesting boxes”. For a moment, picture a hen in natural surroundings, busy from dawn to dusk, scratching in the earth, caring for her young, dust-bathing in dry soil, seeking out food, laying her eggs in seclusion. Trapped in their “enriched” cages, millions of hens worldwide are suffering severe deprivation, both mental and physical.
In 2012, the shocking “barren” battery cage was banned throughout the EU. These cages typically held four or five hens, forced to live on a sloping metal floor, with barely room to move. Crammed in for a year or more, many thousands died, often remaining unnoticed in the gloom. Conditions could hardly have been more inhumane. It’s almost incredible that in the UK, an “animal-loving” country, this shocking system ever took hold. At its height, battery eggs accounted for 96% of all UK egg production.
As many of you know, the ban didn’t include a new type of cage. Now, around 20% of UK eggs are laid by hens enduring a year or more incarcerated in so-called “enriched” or “colony” cages. There can be any number of hens in the cage – 60-80 seems a popular figure. In these new-style battery cages, the birds still live behind bars, on metal or plastic grid flooring, the cages stacked in tiers, many thousands of hens to a building. New legislation demands extra additional floor space per hen, but how generous is this improvement? Well, the added space measures roughly the area of a postcard, bringing the entire minimum space per hen to 750 sq.cm (116 sq inches), that’s little more than the area of a sheet of A4 paper.
According to the EU Directive on laying hens, enriched cages must include a perch, a nesting box and a claw shortening device, plus precise provisions for food and water supplies – all necessary to a hen, but wildly inadequate as supplied in an enriched cage. There’s a mandatory provision for an area of “litter such that pecking and scratching are possible” yet this provision fails to satisfy the hens’ urgent need to dust-bathe. In fact, the provision of dust-bathing/scratching material is totally impractical, in a unit housing thousands of hens. Hens dust-bathe vigorously! The air would be thick with dust particles, litter, feathers etc.,and consequently unbreathable. This unrealistic “provision” was surely cynically dreamed up as a way of keeping the cruel cage system alive.
One major colony-battery farmer told Radio 4’s Farming Today how his “girls” had “moved house” and were now “sitting pretty” in their new cages. (All through our campaign, farmers accused us of according human values to chickens…) A year or so later Poultry World, the poultry industry’s monthly publication, told readers that the farm in question had suffered a downturn in profits. Let’s hope the farmer has invested unwisely in this disgraceful system!
In 2010 the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC – an advisory body appointed by government) stated that bone fractures are common in hens in enriched cages. FAWC damned the new-style cages, concluding that the suffering inherent in the system will “severely compromise at least four of the Five Freedoms.” NB The Five Freedoms form the cornerstone of animal protection legislation and Welfare Codes. They are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease
- Freedom to express normal behaviour
- Freedom from fear and distress
The excellent news is that almost all supermarkets have now pledged not to stock shell eggs from enriched/colony caged hens. But eggs from caged hens may still be included in cakes, biscuits, mayonnaises – in fact in any product calling for eggs.
Here’s how you can help. Why not write to your local supermarket/s or, better still, call in and ask to see the store manager. Explain to her/him that caged hens suffer extreme deprivation. Point out that the production of eggs from caged hens must be illegal, since conditions contravene most or all of the Five Freedoms. Insist on this point, and ask that the manager in question studies existing legislation and reads FAWC’s 2010 ‘Opinion on Osteoporosis and bone fractures in laying hens’ and then comes back to you to explain how the demands of present law can be met within the cage system. Do not be palmed off. These cages must be outlawed. Period!
As a vegan I don’t eat eggs. I decided long ago that animals are not here to serve us. But that’s another story…