Enriched cages may be legal but they aren’t right
In 2015, Compassion in World Farming’s Investigation Unit went undercover in four EU Member States to see what the barren battery cage ban means for Europe’s laying hens.
Filming in 10 farms across France, Italy, Czech Republic and Cyprus, they exposed the continued suffering faced by millions of hens who are still stuck in the Cage Age.
The EU barren battery cage ban was an opportunity for a huge stride forwards in the welfare of Europe’s laying hens. But sadly there was a failing in the tortuous legislation process. A failing that many in the egg industry have seized upon. They have simply replaced the barren cage with the so-called ‘enriched’ version. That means almost 60% of Europe’s 500 million hens still spend their entire lives farmed in cages.
Please take a moment to watch our short investigation film and then call on Europe’s Agriculture Ministers to End the Cage Age for Europe’s hens.
Legal, But Not Right
Filming in 10 farms across France, Italy, Czech Republic and Cyprus, Compassion exposed the continued suffering faced by millions of hens who are still stuck in the Cage Age.
Many of the farms visited may be meeting the requirements of the EU Laying Hens Directive, but in adopting the ‘enriched’ cage they are all failing to address the welfare needs of their animals.
Everywhere our 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. What is more, the cages were so crowded that when a hen did manage to get onto a perch there was no possibility of normal roosting behaviour.
This system is fundamentally flawed
The Investigation Unit saw farms of all types: small and large, modern and ramshackle, clean and dirty. Regardless of the operation, the hens were closely confined, spent their entire lives standing on wire mesh floors or slippery perches, and never saw sunlight.
The ‘enriched’ cage may be within the letter of the law. But it is certainly not within the spirit of our campaign to ban the barren battery cage.
Below are the eyewitness reports from Compassion’s Investigation Unit:
The cages seemed to go on forever. They reached all the way up into the roof of the building, looming over me, and along its entire length. There were so many hens all around me, and the sound of them all calling out was almost deafening. It was impossible to comprehend the scale of the suffering going on under that one roof.
Some birds were perching. This ‘luxury’ is one of the defining factors that makes these cages legal. But the hens simply stepped up an inch or two from the floor of the cage onto the perch and spent their time being jostled by all the other hens around them. If the hens sat up comfortably their heads hit the ceiling above them. There was no chance for these animals to perform anything like natural ‘roosting’ behaviour.
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.
I walked the entire length of the shed beside a row of tiered cages. Focusing on the hens’ feet, I could see some legs were rigid with claws curled round a sloping wire mesh while others jostled for limited space on the perches. On the floor of the shed stood a cockerel. One lone male amongst 9000 caged females. What was he doing that the other hens weren’t? He was walking, walking like a chicken – each step was elongated, claws fully stretched out – as he searched for feed on the floor. He looked at ease.
I looked back at the hens – they were anxious and confined. They couldn’t walk. They looked like chickens but they weren’t able to behave like chickens and it struck me more than ever that a cage, any cage, will never allow animals to fulfil even a fraction of their natural behaviour.
It took some doing to get the worker to let me into Shed 2 but eventually she yielded. We went in and she hovered by the door. I needed some questions answering and beckoned her in. It was then she told me they were suffering; not just a few but all of them – thousands of birds infested with mites.
The sad thing was they weren’t getting any treatment; they were soon to be slaughtered – almost completely spent after a year of egg laying, they were worn out and crawling with mites. Deemed not worth spending money on as they’d soon be in a soup, paste or pet food.
The assortment of old State buildings scattered around the site suggested this was a relic of the past. But one long building in the centre of the site smelled of chickens. I found it hard to imagine a battery chicken factory farm could be anywhere near here. I was wrong. 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?Take action