In 2012, we helped to bring the EU barren battery cage ban into place. It was an opportunity for a huge stride forwards in the welfare of Europe’s laying hens.
But sadly there was a failing in the legislation. A failing that many in the egg industry have seized upon: they have simply replaced the barren cage with the so-called ‘enriched’ version.
This means that almost 60% of Europe’s 500 million hens still spend their lives farmed in cages. Whilst an improvement on the old barren cages, ‘enriched’ cages still do not permit hens to carry out their natural behaviours - they can barely even stretch their wings.
This summer, our Investigation Unit has been undercover in 10 farms across France, Italy, Czech Republic and Cyprus to see what the ban means for laying hens.
We discovered that millions of hens are still kept confined in cages in hidden factory farms where productivity is king. Many of the farms we visited may be meeting the requirements of the EU Directive, but in adopting the ‘enriched’ cage are all failing to address the welfare needs of the hens.
A member of our Investigation Unit, says, of a farm in the Czech Republic: “Over 7000 hens were inside in a low-lit 3 tier high system.
“The birds were flighty and nervous of people. Most had been feather pecked and had lost the glossy brown feathers a free range bird would naturally have – just white down and scrawny necks were left on show. There was no space for them to escape the pecking. How can there be when you’re stuck between wire walls and you share the small cage with nine other animals?”
A fundamentally flawed system
Everywhere our Investigation Unit team went, they encountered many hens with their beaks severely trimmed and their bodies badly feather-pecked, particularly around the chest and neck. Often, hens appeared to be anxious and fearful of human contact – while others were too ill to move.
In almost every farm, the conditions inside the cages were so cramped that hens were barely able to spread their wings. In some farms the perches, which are meant to simulate a tree branch for roosting, were barely a few centimetres off the ground. In other cases, if a hen was on a perch, she could not stand upright because the roof of the cage was so low. This system is fundamentally flawed.
Dil Peeling, our Director of Campaigns, says: “The industry heralds these cages as making vast improvements on the banned barren battery cages.
“But when you see the way these cages still leave hens crammed in, with barely any space to stretch their wings and the minimal ‘enrichment’ that is legally required, it’s clear that for the hens a cage is still a cage. The ‘enrichment’ in these cages is little more than window dressing.”
Over half the EU’s 500 million hens now live in ‘enriched’ cages, meaning that existing laws don’t address the welfare of almost 300 million hens. The question is, can you spot the difference between a barren battery cage and an ‘enriched’ cage?