Caged hens

Egg laying hens – cage-free future?

We believe no hen should live in a cage. Our efforts are currently focused on ending the worst hen-cage system, the barren battery cage.

The barren battery cage – not a good home for a hen

The barren battery cage causes hens extreme physical and psychological stress:

  • Most basic natural behaviours are prevented – she cannot forage for food, lay her eggs in a nest, roost, stretch her wings or dust-bathe
  • Feather-pecking from frustration means that the hen’s beaks are often ‘trimmed’ using an infra-red beam, without anaesthetic.
  • Brittle bones are commonplace as modern commercial hens have been bred to produce very high numbers of eggs. This depletes their calcium levels and can result in high levels of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and fractures. This risk is exacerbated by the cramped conditions in a barren cage.
  • Large cage-based systems may allow hens to die unnoticed as several tiers of crowded cages make inspection difficult

And the barren battery cage is bad news for us too – even though it is often claimed that confined animals are better protected from infection, a recent UK survey found that the prevalence of Salmonella infection was more than three times higher in cage systems than in free-range systems.

A major step forward

In 1999 the EU agreed a Directive on Laying Hens (1999/74/EC) that resulted in the banning of the most inhumane of these systems, the barren battery cage. Producers were given a 12 year phase-out period, bringing the ban into effect on 1 January 2012.

The barren battery cage ban is a tremendous victory for animal welfare.

Directly impacting on the lives of hundreds of millions of hens, a vigorous campaign by Compassion in World Farming and other animal welfare organisations, helped ensure the ban was successfully defended, in the face of strong opposition from producers and a number of EU member states.

The impact of the barren battery cage ban is huge and far-reaching – around 250 million hens have benefited since it was agreed in 1999.

Fighting for a better life for hens in the EU

Despite the incredible step forward with the outlawing of the barren battery cage, not all egg producers were ready on time for the ban.

European Commission estimates show that around 40 million hens were still in illegal barren battery cages on 1 January 2012. This represents around 12% of the total European commercial hen flock.

Compassion in World Farming’s The Big Move campaign will continue to keep up the pressure on those nations containing egg producers not compliant with the ban. With rigorous enforcement and a concerted political effort the end of the barren battery cage is in sight.

 Here’s a selection of press coverage about the Big Move campaign:

Join the fight against the barren battery cage

Millions of hens in Greece are still kept in barren systems. Take action for hens by calling on the Greek Government to enforce the law.

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