1 August 1997

Increased space for laying hens will cost £100m, claims NFU

By Tony McDougal

INCREASING the space allocation for laying hens in battery cages, demanded by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, will cost the industry £100m, according to the NFU.

The FAWC report on the welfare of laying hens called for the EU directive on battery cages to be changed immediately to increase the minimum space allowance from 450 sq cm to 600 sq cm a hen within five years for existing units, but with immediate effect in new poultry houses.

In the longer term, it also recommended that battery cages should be phased out across the EU, but only if alternative systems could be found that did not lead to increased pecking.

The report said there were signs that genetic selection for reduced pecking behaviour was possible and that all poultry breeding companies should be encouraged to work towards that.

Junior farm minister, Elliot Morley, welcomed the report. "Its recommendations give independent support to the governments own view that we must plan an end to the practice of keeping laying hens in battery cages," he said.

Acknowledging the potentially wide-ranging implications, Mr Morley added that government would seek the views of all interested parties before making a detailed response to the FAWC report.

Sir Colin Spedding, FAWC chairman, insisted that the UK industry must be protected from unfair competition elsewhere in the EU. The government should not take unilateral action to phase out battery cages – as it did over sow stalls and tethers – and legislation must come in simultaneously across the EU.

Once that was achieved, Prof Spedding said egg imports must be banned from countries outside the EU where conventional battery cages were still used. GATT and World Trade Organisation arrangements should not be allowed to prevent that. If necessary, the UK government should seek amendments to the agreements to protect animal welfare.

Mark Williams, NFU poultry adviser, warned that increased space for birds in battery cages could allow hens to express their normal behaviour, but it could also lead to injuries from feather pecking and cannibalism. Providing the additional space, whether through investment in new cages or just removing one bird from the group in existing cages, would cost about £100m, Mr Williams estimated. &#42

Battery hens should have more space immediately, says FAWC.

Other FAWC recommendations:

lFeeding products derived from chicken meat and bones back to poultry should be avoided.

lBeak trimming, "a most undesirable mutilation", should be avoided unless essential to protect welfare or when recommended by a vet.

lSteps should be taken to ensure a significant reduction in bone damage.

lEgg labelling, according to their system of production, should be compulsory.