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Compassion appalled by Government response to End the Cage Age petition

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The petition to End the Cage Age has received a Government response, having secured over 10,000 signatures. However, Compassion is extremely disappointed by this response. Among its many faults are its disregard for the wealth of scientific evidence that shows cages are highly detrimental to animal welfare and its trivialisation of the significance of caged systems on animal welfare. You can sign the petition here – we need 100,000 signatures to secure a parliamentary debate on the use of cages. The UK Government must phase out cruel cages, so please be sure to ask friends and family to sign too. Read on for Compassion’s detailed critique of the Government’s response.

We are appalled that the Government indicates the main determining factor in protecting animal welfare is ‘good stockmanship and the correct application of husbandry standards.’ Stockmanship is of course very important, but starting with the right type of system is crucial. There are some systems that prevent so many essential natural behaviours that welfare will inevitably be very poor, no matter how good stockmanship is. This is particularly true of caged systems. A sow confined in a crate in which she cannot even turn around will inevitably suffer, even with the best stockmanship.

Furthermore, the Government states that cages have been banned where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. There is a wealth of robust scientific evidence demonstrating that enriched cages for laying hens and farrowing crates for sows are highly detrimental to welfare, yet they remain in use for millions of animals.

James West, Senior Policy Manager, says: “The Government has stated on numerous occasions that the UK will become the global leader in farm animal welfare once we leave the EU. Their refusal to even acknowledge that cage systems are detrimental to the welfare of farm animals flies in the face of this commitment"

“If the Government is serious about this ambition, it must embrace a cage free future in order to protect millions of farm animals every year across the UK. Numerous countries across the EU have already taken steps to End the Cage Age and the UK must set an example of a more humane farming system if it is not to be left behind.”

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Detailed response

There are a number of issues within the response that Compassion disputes, including:

Laying Hens

What the Government says: Enriched cages provide more space for the birds to move around than conventional cages and are legally required to provide nest boxes, litter, perches, and claw shortening devices which allow the birds to carry out a greater range of natural behaviours.

The reality: Hens confined in enriched cages still only have just a little more space than an A4 sheet of paper per hen. Scientific evidence demonstrates that hen welfare is compromised in enriched cages. Enriched cages severely restrict many natural behaviours, including wing-flapping, running, perching high, dust bathing and foraging.1,2 Luxembourg, Austria and Germany have banned, or are in the process of banning, enriched cages.

Sows

What the Government says: The UK is ahead of most other EU pig producing countries in terms of non-confinement farrowing, with approximately 60% of UK sows in farrowing crates to give birth and the remaining 40% housed outside and free farrowed (crate-free). Research is on-going to develop and test indoor free farrowing systems under commercial conditions which protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets.

The reality: Several proven indoor free-farrowing systems that permit freedom of movement for the sow, whilst protecting piglets, are commercially available and in use in numerous countries, including the UK.3,4 Indeed, systems designed and produced in Britain are being used in the UK, USA and Canada.Sweden, Norway and Switzerland do not keep any of their sows in farrowing crates.6 The evidence that farrowing crates are detrimental to sow welfare is overwhelming.4,7,8

Calves

What the Government says: The UK unilaterally banned the keeping of calves in veal crates in 1990, sixteen years before the rest of the EU. However, as young calves are highly susceptible to disease, up to 8 weeks of age, they are permitted to be kept in individual hutches of a specified size with bedding provided, as long as they have visual and tactile contact with other calves.

The reality: Group housing from birth can provide health and welfare benefits for calves, provided groups are small and stable, and that housing provides sufficient space and ventilation and is hygienic and well managed.9,10,11 Cattle are social animals, and much evidence shows that calves are more stressed and fearful when housed individually, and prefer to be housed with other calves.12,13,14,15,16

Layer and Broiler Breeders

What the Government says: In the UK, the use of cages to house both layer breeders and broiler (meat chicken) breeders is prohibited under the UK’s farm assurance scheme standards.

The reality: It is not compulsory to sign up to a farm assurance scheme. Outside of farm assurance schemes, cages for layer breeders and broiler breeders are not prohibited.

Gamebirds

What the Government says: The statutory welfare code for gamebirds states that barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used.

The reality: The statutory code does not discourage cages, but only recommends that ‘barren’ cages are not used for gamebirds, and that ‘small barren’ cages are not used for breeding partridges. Furthermore, the code is not legally binding.

References

  1. Lay, D.C., Fulton, R.M., Hester, P.Y., Karcher, D.M., Kjaer, J.B., Mench, J.A., Mullens, B.A., Newberry, R.C., Nicol, C.J., O’sullivan, N.P. and Porter, R.E., 2011. Hen welfare in different housing systems. Poultry Science, 90(1), pp.278-294.
  2. Rodenburg TB, Tuyttens FAM, and Sonck B. 2005. Welfare, health, and hygiene of laying hens housed in furnished cages and in alternative housing systems. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 8(3):211‐26.
  3. https://www.freefarrowing.org/downloads/file/49/lls18_proceedings
  4. Baxter, E.M., Lawrence, A.B. and Edwards, S.A., 2012. Alternative farrowing accommodation: welfare and economic aspects of existing farrowing and lactation systems for pigs. Animal, 6(1), pp.96-117.
  5. https://www.dalgetyfarmsystems.com/news/pioneering-staffordshire-designed-pig-pen-unveiled-to-worldwide-audience
  6. https://www.freefarrowing.org/downloads/file/43/ffw_2016
  7. Damm, B.I., Lisborg, L., Vestergaard, K.S. and Vanicek, J., 2003. Nest-building, behavioural disturbances and heart rate in farrowing sows kept in crates and Schmid pens. Livestock Science, 80(3), pp.175-187.
  8. Jarvis, S., Reed, B.T., Lawrence, A.B., Calvert, S.K. and Stevenson, J., 2004. Peri-natal environmental effects on maternal behaviour, pituitary and adrenal activation, and the progress of parturition in the primiparous sow. Animal Welfare, 13(2), pp.171-181.
  9. Jensen, M. (2012). Welfare Related to Feeding, Housing and Health of Dairy Calves. The First Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium, 23-26 October 2012, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
  10. Svensson, C., K. Lundborg, U. Emanuelson and S.O. Olsson. 2003. Morbidity in Swedish dairy calves from birth to 90 days of age and individual calf-level risk factors for infectious diseases. Prev. Vet. Med. 58: 179-197
  11. Marce, C., Guatteo, R., Bareille, N. and Fourichon, C. (2010) Dairy calf housing systems across Europe and risk for calf infectious diseases. Animal. 4, 1588-1596.
  12. Chua, B., Coenen, E., van Delen, J. and Weary, D.M. (2002) Effects of pair versus individual housing on the behaviour and performance of dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science, 85, 360-364.
  13. Holm, L., Jensen, M.B.and Jeppesen, L.L.(2002) Calves’ motivation for access to two different types of social contact measured by operant conditioning. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 79, 175-194.
  14. Keyserlingk, M., Weary, D. (2012). Welfare implications of dairy cattle housing management. The First Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium, 23-26 October 2012, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
  15. Jensen, M. (2012). Welfare Related to Feeding, Housing and Health of Dairy Calves. The First Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium, 23-26 October 2012, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
  16. https://www.compassioninfoodbusiness.com/media/5822655/welfare-of-the-dairy-calf.pdf