This time last year I welcomed the publication of Chickens’ Lib by Clare Druce as a fascinating history of the organisation with the same name and a damning indictment of the poultry industry. I’m thrilled to share with you the great news that Clare’s book is now available as an e-book on all platforms. Compassion and Chickens’ Lib enjoy a longstanding relationship of working together to end factory farming. I invited Clare to reflect upon what’s been accomplished and where we go from here.
As those who work to improve the lot of farmed animals know all too well, it’s a stony path we tread. Progress is painfully slow, and sometimes less satisfactory than we’d hoped. For example, we all rejoiced to see an end to the barren battery cage. But our joy was severely limited, for the big producers have moved over to the still legal ‘enriched’ cage, a contraption little better for the hens, and in some ways worse. The fact that UK enriched cages on average house fifty hens, with little more living space afforded per hen than to those in ‘old-style’ cages, it will surely be harder to identify ailing birds, or to inspect those in the curtained laying areas. In addition, the catching process prior to transport to slaughter will be even more stressful.
My conviction, explained in my book, Chickens’ Lib, is that progress of a revolutionary kind is not only vital but feasible.
More than thirty years ago, and deeply depressed by what I’d recently seen of battery cages, I became convinced that there must be something in our animal protection laws with which to challenge the status quo. I found that indeed such a thing existed – the Welfare of Livestock (Intensive Units) Regulations 1978. These stated that intensively kept livestock must be thoroughly inspected daily. Taking caged hens as our example, Chickens’ Lib illustrated the impossibility of the task. As a result of our calculations the RSPCA mounted a successful prosecution, causing consternation throughout the poultry industry. But the industry need not have worried – a hellish existence for countless factory farmed animals was to continue, while useful legislation to protect them gathered dust, no more than fine words on paper. Sadly, the RSPCA did not accept Chickens’ Lib’s contention that the demands of the 1978 Regulations (included in current legislation) could be used to indict every battery farmer in Britain.
In 1995 I acted as the expert witness on poultry matters in the ‘McLibel’ case. To my delight, Mr Justice Bell ruled that production methods for the chickens and eggs supplying McDonald’s amounted to cruelty, listing the restrictive nature of battery cages, the overcrowding endured by broiler chickens, and the severe feed restriction imposed on broiler breeding stock. Had this case been a criminal rather than a civil one, the outcome for intensively-kept animals could have been ground-breaking.
In my book, as well as detailing the history of our pressure group, I argue that legislation has never been better for so-called food animals. The 2006 Animal Welfare Act, England and Wales is especially valuable in that it places a duty on those who are responsible for animals to ensure their needs are met and it stipulates that an animal’s need to exhibit normal behaviour should be provided for. Yet the vast majority of factory farmed animals are kept under conditions far removed from this proviso. Take caged hens, for example, they’re never able to peck around in the soil or enjoy a sunny dust bath. Broiler chickens are slaughtered at five or six weeks of age. They’re genetically selected for ever-faster growth, increasingly listless as they grow and often in pain, kept up to 50,000 to a shed. Their parent stock are fed severely restricted rations, to prevent them from ending up obese too, and unable to procreate. Turkeys living in gloom, almost a forgotten welfare atrocity, yet the centrepiece of many a Christmas celebration. The parent turkeys are no longer able to mate naturally. They’re subjected to stressful and potentially painful artificial insemination. Add to that the terrors of catching, transport and slaughter, and surely there can be no doubt that the suffering endured by millions constitutes blatant contravention of our animal protection laws.
A wealth of scientific research is now available to back up the contention that factory farmed animals suffer. The urgent need now is for our hard-won legislation to be put to the test in a court of law.
Clare Druce co-founded Chickens’ Lib with her mother, Violent Spalding, in the early 1970s. Her book is published by Bluemoose Books.