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Chickens Feel Empathy

News Section Icon Published 11/03/2011

The University of Bristol's Animal Welfare and Behaviour Group has unveiled research that shows chickens feel empathy.

This ability to feel and connect with the emotional state of another has long been considered a human trait, but now science has caught up with common sense and demonstrated that chickens are capable of it, too.

These new findings make it all the more important to ban barren battery cages as soon as possible, as Compassion's CEO, Philip Lymbery, says:

"This is yet more evidence demonstrating that hens are not only sentient - capable of feeling pain and suffering themselves - but can also recognise feelings in one another. It also underscores the need to treat farm animals with compassion and respect, rather than caging, cramming or confining them on factory farms.

"We can all do our bit to help end animal suffering by choosing meat and eggs from animals kept in higher welfare systems such as free range and organic. Please support our Big Move campaign to help millions of hens across Europe break free from the cruel confinement of these cages."

There are around 360 million hens in the commercial laying flock in the EU and over two-thirds of them are kept in barren battery and "enriched" or "modified" cages. In the UK there are around 26 million laying hens and 50% of them are in cages.

In the EU, battery cages typically hold four or five hens and the legal requirement for floor space per hen is smaller than the area of an A4 sheet of paper. The cages are stacked in rows with several tiers stacked above each other, allowing the unit to hold thousands of hens.

The hens' movement and natural behaviour (such as stretching, preening, wing-flapping, scratching and perching) are severely restricted and frustrated in a battery cage because of the lack of space. Exercise is impossible.

Enriched cages will remain legal in the EU after the use of battery cages is prohibited on 1 January 2012. These enriched cages must provide more space per hen, a nesting area for egg laying, some litter material for pecking and scratching, and 15cm of perch per hen.

It is vital that the battery cage ban goes ahead on the 1st January 2012.

Poland is the only EU country officially requesting a delay on the battery cage ban, which was agreed in 1999 before Poland joined the EU. However, having joined the EU in 2004, Poland still had eight years to prepare. If there is a delay, other countries may follow suit and the ban might never come into force.


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