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The RSPCA is strongly opposed to battery cages and believes there must now be a legislative phase-out of their use. For many years, the RSPCA has campaigned against housing hens in battery cages and raised public awareness of the inherent welfare issues of these systems through education and advertising campaigns. The RSPCA has, and will continue to, lobby governments and the egg industry to stop this inhumane production method in Australia.
Legislation and regulatory requirements
The RSPCA works hard to improve legislation on layer hen welfare. These efforts are not always successful against the strength of other stakeholders, but it certainly makes a difference. The RSPCA and other animal welfare groups have worked together to try to bring an end to battery cages through changes to legislation and regulatory requirements.
The RSPCA is one of the stakeholders involved in the current development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry, which are intended to replace the current Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry. During this process, we are continuing to campaign for battery cages to be phased out in Australia and support housing and management that improve the welfare of the hen by allowing her to perch, roost, dust bathe, forage and lay her eggs in a nest.
For more information on the development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, visit their website here .
Education, campaigning and engaging with retailers
Another way that the RSPCA is helping to get hens out of cages is through public education and successful initiatives such as our Hens Deserve Better and Set a Sister Free campaigns. RSPCA Australia regularly engages with major retailers, fast food chains and food manufacturers, encouraging them to make animal welfare a priority and listen to the increasing customer demand for cage-free eggs. Coles has now removed all cage eggs from its own brand label and Woolworths has committed to phasing out cartons of cage eggs from all brands and only use cage-free egg ingredients for Woolworths branded products by the end of 2018. Aldi has committed to supplying only cage-free eggs in its stores by no later than 2025.
McDonald’s Australia has also announced that it will be switching to cage-free eggs by the end of 2017. As of September 2015, all Subway restaurants in Australia are now serving only cage-free eggs. This commitment from some of Australia’s largest egg buyers is a huge leap forward in improving the lives of layer hens around the country.
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme
A very positive and successful move to get hens out of cages was the development of the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme. Egg producers who meet the RSPCA Standards for layer hens can use the RSPCA logo on the pack to show that the hens producing these eggs have been raised in a well-managed, higher welfare system that provides for the behavioural and physiological needs of the hen. Hens raised to the Standards are provided with an environment that enables them to display important behaviours such as nesting, perching, dust bathing, wing flapping, foraging and scratching. Battery cages do not allow hens to perform these behaviours.
The Scheme is a win all-round as the public can make an ethical choice to buy welfare-friendly eggs, and producers can see it makes economic sense to move towards higher welfare production systems that cater for hen welfare.
To learn more about the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme or view our standards for layer hens visit our website.
To find out where you can purchase RSPCA Approved eggs, visit Choose Wisely.
Choose Wisely is an RSPCA initiative aimed at putting humane food on the menu by promoting and making it simple for consumers to find cafes and restaurants that serve higher welfare food (including cage-free eggs). By supporting these businesses that care about animal welfare, consumers are not only having a positive impact on the lives of the animals but, through their purchasing and eating preferences, they are also encouraging other businesses to make the move and start sourcing higher welfare food.
International movements away from battery cages
There have been significant moves to get hens out of battery cages throughout the world, with the European Union (EU) taking the lead. From January 2003, no new battery cages were allowed to be installed in the EU, and from 2012, all hens were housed in cage-free or furnished cage systems where they have more space, a nest, somewhere to scratch their claws, a perch, and litter for dust bathing and scratching. In 2012, New Zealand committed to phasing out battery cages over the next decade, and in 2016, Canada committing to a phase-out of battery cages by 2036. Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Germany have banned or are proposing to ban all forms of cages, including furnished cages.
Further research into cage-free systems
Scientific evidence shows that hens suffer when confined in battery cages. Restricted movement, lack of exercise, constantly standing on a wire floor, and no perches leads to severe bone and muscle weakness. This is in addition to the hens having most of their behavioural needs frustrated by a lack of environmental stimulation and enrichment.
Each type of housing system exhibits advantages and disadvantages in terms of hen welfare. However, the severe behavioural inhibition in battery cages is inherent to the cages, and not affected by management. It is widely acknowledged that battery cages cannot provide good welfare for layer hens. In Australia, public concern over the use of battery cages is consistently high and has increased further in recent years, with many consumers purchasing eggs from hens in cage-free systems.
Well-designed and managed alternative systems can provide good welfare for layer hens. There are also risks to welfare in cage-free systems, and good welfare is subject to robust animal welfare standards, appropriate housing conditions and good management practices. In addition to this, research is needed to optimise cage-free systems to ensure that birds remain healthy and robust and able to fulfil their behavioural needs.
The welfare of layer hens in battery cages is perhaps the most compromised of all farm animals, and the RSPCA will continue to pressure industry, government, retailers and food manufacturers, and raise community awareness to achieve a future where hens are no longer confined to battery cages.
In Australia, more and more people have been buying cage free eggs over the past 5 years. Despite this, more than 11 million layer hens, or around 65-70% of all layer hens in Australia, are still currently confined to battery cages. With the current review of the minimum standards for poultry, this year represents the first real opportunity in approximately 15 years to legislate a phase out of battery cages.
Now is the time for the egg industry and legislators to initiate a phase-out of battery cages on achievable terms.