Later this year, agriculture ministers from NSW and across Australia will come together to define the future of 10 million egg-laying hens stuck in barren cages.
After 5 years of talk, we have the power to ensure they ban the cruel caging of these hens and end the mass suffering. A different future is possible; one that gives hens a life worth living and is consistent with community expectations.
Other countries have successfully transitioned away from cages to more humane systems for hens. In Australia and around the world, supermarkets and retailers are refusing to stock cage eggs as consumers throw support behind more humane options. But the Australian egg industry is holding out – admitting that cages do not allow hens to express natural behaviour but arguing that this doesn’t matter. We need to push back against this nonsense and show it does matter. Now is the time to move to a kinder system.
What is the problem?
NSW is the biggest egg producing state in Australia, accounting for around 1 in 3 egg-laying hens. Around half of these hens are raised in barren battery cages, several birds to a cage, with wire cages stacked on top of one another resembling cells from a battery. Hens are unable to stretch their wings or limbs, or do any of the things that they are hardwired to do like perch, dustbathe, or make a nest for their eggs.
Confined and unable to move, on hard wire floors, their muscles weaken and they develop osteoporosis, leaving them in constant pain. With the equivalent of an A4 page of floor space for each bird, they redirect their frustration by pecking one another, causing further stress and injury. Often day-old chicks have their beaks painfully trimmed in the hope of reducing later injury from pecking. In the wild hens might live for 10 years but stuck in this system, hens typically live less than 1 ½ years before their bodies give in.
The egg farmers industry association admits the cage system denies birds the ability to express natural behaviour, but argues that the concept of natural behaviour should apply to pet animals, not hens. This fundamentally ignores the fact that birds are sentient, with the capacity to feel pain and pleasure. It ignores the moral obligation to treat birds humanely and conveniently overlooks the fact that caging of sentient animals contradicts the universally accepted Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare.
Instead, we hear the tired argument that ending cages and transitioning to cage-free barn or free-range systems will lead to spiralling costs that the consumer cannot and will not pay. Yet, all major supermarkets in Australia have moved to ban sale of caged eggs by 2025 in response to consumer expectations, and many are phasing out caged eggs in home brand processed products. Less than half of eggs purchased in supermarkets are from caged eggs.
The egg industry also argues that keeping birds indoors confined in cages improves biosecurity and reduces the emergence and spread of disease. This flies in the face of evidence that birds are more susceptible to infection when they are in a poor environment, fed a poor diet, or under physical or psychological stress.
One of the most common causes of gastroenteritis in humans is salmonella bacteria within food. Eggs from hens carrying salmonella (S.Enteritidis) are believed to the main source of human infection.
Hope for change
In 2019, a NSW upper house inquiry initiated by Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst recommended that cage egg systems should be phased out on animal welfare grounds.
If enacted, this would bring NSW into line with the European Union and also with New Zealand that will ban battery cages from 2023. Five US states have bans on the production and sale of eggs from caged hens.
NSW is not the first Australian state to recommend banning battery cages. In 2018, the WA government also made this recommendation in a submission to a federal inquiry. Both NSW and WA governments have chosen not to go it alone and legislate the change. Instead, an independent panel will come up with draft standards to take to agriculture ministers from around Australia later this year. If a ban on cages is achieved, this will create the level playing field needed for sustainable change across the nation.
Furnished cages are not the answer
It’s critical that we learn the lessons from other countries and avoid compromise solutions that do not spare hens from cruelty. When the European Union banned battery cages, they allowed for so call ‘enriched’ cages that give hens a bit more room, a perch, materials for dust bathing and if they are lucky, a nest.
‘Furnished’ or ‘enriched’ cages fail both animals and egg farmers. Birds remain confined and unable to express natural behaviour. In Europe, more than half of commercial egg systems are in ‘enriched’ cages. Farmers are locked into the new infrastructure and left high and dry as retailers insist on fully cage free egg supply. ‘Enriched’ cages for hens are now rightly banned in Luxembourg and will be banned in Austria from 2020 and Germany from 2025.
Investors in animal farming are increasingly unlikely to lend financial support to sub-standard systems.
What you can do
It’s time to come together to send a clear signal that animals should not be kept in cages. They deserve room to move and the ability to express hardwired behaviours.
Become a member of the Animal Justice Party and call on the NSW government and governments across Australia to ban cages for egg-laying hens.
Written by: Jacqui Mills
- 7News, NSW committee calls for battery hen ban, 30 October 2019, https://7news.com.au/politics/nsw-committee-calls-for-battery-hen-ban-c-530990
- RPSCA Australia podcast, “What’s the problem with cage eggs and why are hens still in cages today? With Jed and Sarah from the RSPCA”, https://www.rspca.org.au/media-centre/humane-food-podcast
- RSPCA Australia blog, “What exactly is a battery cage? 28 September 2018, https://www.rspca.org.au/blog/2018/what-exactly-battery-cage#:~:text=The%20hens%20live%20in%20these,cells%20in%20a%20large%20battery.
- RSPCA Australia Knowledge Base, https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-are-layer-hens-farmed-in-australia/
- Egg Farmers of Australia, EFA: Animal welfare policy statement, https://eggfarmersaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/180628_Animal_Welfare_Policy.pdf
- RSPCA Australia Knowledge Base, https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-are-the-five-freedoms-of-animal-welfare/
- WA Egg farmers will crack under supermarkets’ cage-free demands, warns industry, 27 June 2020, https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/wa-egg-farmers-will-crack-under-supermarkets-cage-free-demands-warns-industry-20200622-p5553i.html
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- Arnold, M., Martelli, F. McLaren, R, Davies, H, Estimation of the rate of egg contamination from Salmonella-infected chickens, Zoonoses Public Health. 61, 18-27 (2014)
- New Zealand Herald, New battery hen cages banned, 6 December 2012, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10852437
- The Australian, WA stands alone in the bid to ban battery cages for chickens, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/wa-stands-along-in-bid-to-ban-battery-cages-for-chicken/news-story/64cd31d733a949d383ad93879b0b2a8d
- Compassion in World Farming, End the Cage Age: Why the EU must stop caging farm animals, https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/7434596/end-the-cage-age-why-the-eu-must-stop-caging-farm-animals.pdf
- FAIRR, Poultry and eggs, https://www.fairr.org/index/protein-types/poultry-eggs/