The topic of 'cage farming' was suggested by the RSPCA, who agreed to share this article on their social media channels if we wrote an article on this issue. Polity did not receive any form of payment, nor did the RSPCA have any editorial input in the writing of this article.
On Monday the 27th of November, the public were invited to comment on the draft for a new set of national standards and guidelines for poultry welfare. These guidelines dictate how poultry (chickens) should be commercially farmed in Australia.
This draft, notably, did not include the banning of the use of battery cages, a controversial system for the farming of chicken eggs. This has resulted in some stating that the new standards fail to make any meaningful improvement to animal welfare standards.
Battery cages are small cages, which houses 4-6 a chickens, with each hen allowed the space of an A4 sheet of paper for the duration of their lives. This system allows for a lower cost of production, & reduction in disease & social conflict between chickens.
Because of how small these cages are, the hens housed within them are unable to perform many of their natural behaviours, such as spreading their wings, pecking, and dustbathing. This results in many detrimental effects to chickens such as:
The disintegration of their bones from not being able to move, leading to the development of chronic diseases such as 'cage layer fatigue'; where hens become so weak as to lose their ability to move.
The requirement to practice beak-trimming (the partial removal of a chicken's beak), to reduce the harmful effects of pecking and cannibalism induced from being housed in such a confined area. There is evidence to show that acute pain is felt by chickens who have had their beaks trimmed.
Chickens show a surprisingly high level of intelligence, and may even be sensitive to the welfare of its peers. Thus, being enclosed in such a small space for the duration of their lives puts a lot of psychological stress on the chickens.
It is because of these concerns that the use of battery cages have been banned in 29 countries & some American states, including all countries in the European Union, the UK, & Switzerland. In addition, New Zealand and Canada are currently phasing out battery cages.
Egg farming is a $848m industry in Australia, & almost three quarters of all eggs produced in Australia are from battery cages.
Should Australia phase out
the use of battery cages?
Huffington Post, 'The Cruelest of All Factory Farm Products: Eggs From Caged Hens'
The Conversation, 'It’s no yolk: grocery giants commit to animal welfare initiatives'
The Conversation, 'The limit of labels: ethical food is more than consumer choice'
World's Poultry Science Journal, 'The welfare of layer hens in cage and cage-free housing systems'; Agriculture Victoria, 'Farmed Bird Welfare Science Review'
Star Tribune, 'Counterpoint: The downside of cage-free eggs'
LayWel, 'Advantages and disadvantages of different housing systems for the welfare of laying hens', European Commission, 'Animal welfare in practice: Laying hens'