Science again confirms battery cages are bad for birds

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A landmark review released today, commissioned by the Victorian Government and written by leading international experts from the University of Bristol, has reinforced the RSPCA’s position – that good animal welfare means no battery cages.

The review was commissioned by the Victorian Department of Agriculture in response to the development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Welfare of Poultry, which has been underway since 2015.

RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said, “Despite claiming to be science-based, the standards writing group ignored the RSPCA’s calls to commission a review of existing research prior to drafting the new standards,”

“We applaud the Victorian Government for taking the initiative and funding this fully independent expert review, which we can now confirm backs the RSPCA’s opposition to battery cages,” said Dr Goodfellow.

“The RSPCA has long advocated for an end to the use of barren battery cages in Australia, based on extensive scientific evidence that these cages cannot meet the needs of hens,

“We have known for decades that hens in cages suffer continually as they are unable to lay their eggs in a nest, move around freely, stretch their wings, forage or dust bathe,” he said.

The review states that, “The conventional cage system prevents birds from performing basic movements essential for good health (walking, wing stretching), and denies birds the possibility of expressing their behavioural needs to roost, nest and forage, or their motivation to dust-bathe, due to an inherent lack of resources.”

Furthermore, the restricted space per hen in battery cages is “associated with increased mortality, an increase in physiological stress and compromised immune function.”

The review acknowledges all layer hen housing systems have welfare challenges, but that cage-free systems offer scope for progressive improvement; whereas the welfare problems of battery cages are inherent to the system itself and cannot be overcome by – for example – good management.

Following the failures of the Standards writing group, the RSPCA released its own review of the animal welfare science around layer hen housing last year. A peer-reviewed version of this report is due to be published soon in the World’s Poultry Science Journal.

“This new independent review confirms the findings of our own review, and what we have known for years – there is no denying that hens suffer in battery cages. It doesn’t matter how shiny and new the cages are, or how fancy the shed is – the fact is, life in a barren wire cage is miserable for a hen,” said Dr Goodfellow.

“Fortunately, it’s not too late, and we urge state governments to now act on this evidence and support a phase-out of battery cages in the draft standards,” said Dr Goodfellow.

This is the same evidence that has led the governments of New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the entire European union to conclude that battery cages should be phased out.

Around 11 million Australian hens remain confined in battery cages, despite overwhelming community support for cage-free systems.

Despite ongoing disagreement among stakeholders regarding the draft standards, they are due to be released for public input at the end of this month, more than a year later than initially planned.

To find out more about the welfare problems of battery cages, visit www.endthebatterycage.org.au.

The review also covers a wide range of issues related to the care and management of all poultry – not just layer hens – and the RSPCA will consider these findings in due course.

To follow this issue, sign up to the RSPCA’s e-news at www.rspca.org.au.

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