For many years, the RSPCA has been actively campaigning against battery cages. Battery cages are completely barren – hens in battery cages experience extreme confinement and behavioural restriction, without enough space to even stretch their wings. Due to the inability to walk, flap their wings, or perch, hens in battery cages suffer very poor muscle and bone strength, a high rate of bone fractures, frustration, abnormal behaviours, and poor welfare. The ability to perform natural behaviours is important to positive welfare in poultry.
Many scientific studies have concluded that good welfare cannot be achieved in battery cages. The overwhelming consensus among animal welfare experts is that the welfare of hens in battery cages is severely compromised. The whole of the European Union and the United Kingdom have legally phased out battery cages, and Canada and New Zealand are currently phasing them out. These decisions were based on comprehensive scientific reviews. A detailed scientific European report makes a clear case against battery cages.
Following are just some of the reasons why the RSPCA will continue to lobby governments to ban the use of battery cages:
- Battery cages are small, barren wire cages; there are many thousands of cages stacked in sheds that may contain up to 100,000 birds.
- The space given to each bird is less than the size of a piece of A4 paper and cages are only 40 cm high.
- Hens do not have enough space to stretch or flap their wings, or exercise.
- Scientific studies indicate that battery hens suffer in battery cages. Restricted movement, constantly standing on a wire floor, and a lack of perches lead to severe bone and muscle weakness.
- Hens cannot express normal behaviours which they are highly motivated to perform, such as wing flapping, scratching the ground, dust bathing, perching, nesting, and foraging.
- Caged hens do not have ‘personal space’ so they cannot escape aggression from other hens.
- Battery cages have no nesting area — nesting before and during egg laying is a priority for hens and this deficiency frustrates and distresses them.
In Australia, more and more people have been buying cage-free eggs at the supermarket over the past 5 years. Despite this, more than 11 million layer hens, or around two-thirds of all layer hens in Australia, are still confined to battery cages. With the current review of the minimum standards for poultry, now is 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.