Battery cages for hens must be scrapped

24 July 1997

Battery cages for hens must be scrapped

Battery cages for laying hens are cruel and should be phased out of the European Union, says a report released today. The report Report on the Welfare of Laying Hens was released by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and has the official backing of the government.

Birds often turn cannibalistic and peck each other to death through lack of animal protein in the diets of laying hens, the report says. It describes the existing rules on the minimum space allowance for hens as unacceptable and calls for the cage sizes to be enlarged from 450cm sq to 600cm sq a hen. It says these changes should be introduced over the next five years.

It calls for battery cages to be scrapped in the long-term subject to:

  • The UK industry being protected from unfair competition from elsewhere within the EU. Phasing out throughout the EU must take place simultaneously.
  • Imports of shell eggs and egg products in the EU being banned from those countries in which conventional battery cages are still used. GATT/WTO arrangements should be allowed to prevent these measures. If necessary, the UK government should seek an amendment to the agreement to protect the welfare of animals.
  • There are signs that genetic selection for reduced injurious pecking behaviour may remove an obstacle to the widespread use of non-cage systems. The phasing out of battery cages should not be effected until after the elimination or successful control of injurious pecking and cannibalism through genetic progress or improvements in management techniques.

    The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said the council ought to be congratulated for undertaking the wide-ranging review, and that the findings mirror the views of the government. 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, MAFF said.

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