Australia's Hen Welfare Crisis
In recent news that has sparked significant controversy and concern, the Australian Government backed by state Agriculture Ministers have taken a decision that will confine an estimated 55 million hens to battery cages. Despite widespread criticism from animal welfare rights and protection organisations including the Animal Justice Party, Australian egg producers have been given the green light to continue using battery cages for hens until 2036.
Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst spoke out strongly against this prolonged phase out:
‘Battery cages are nothing more than legalised animal abuse. Allowing millions of hens to continue to suffer in this system until 2036 is simply unacceptable. The industry has had years - a phase out could easily be done in a very short time frame, and that's exactly what we will be pushing for.
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A Deep Dive into the Battery Hen Issue
So, what exactly are battery cages? Simply put, these are small enclosures in which hens are kept for the purposes of egg production. Offering little more room than the size of an A4 sheet of paper, these confined spaces prevent hens from exhibiting their natural behaviours such as stretching their wings, perching, scratching, or nesting.
Regrettably, the suffering that these hens endure is not confined within the boundaries of these cages. The physical and mental distress caused to them as a result of their confinement is a matter of considerable concern and controversy.
The practice of using battery cages has already been banned or is being phased out in three quarters of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. In 2012, countries in the European Union and the UK put an end to the use of battery cages, while New Zealand and 10 states in the US followed suit this year.
Yet, despite the global shift towards more humane egg production practices, the new Australian standards - the product of seven years of negotiations - have allowed the continuation of battery cages until 2036. Even more concerning is the fact that this decision was made despite the fact that 99% of the 167,000 public submissions vehemently called for an immediate end to this practice.
A Polarised Debate: Balancing Views and Values
When it comes to the controversial decision to prolong the use of battery cages, the Australian Government justifies it by asserting that it reflects a careful balance between the latest scientific understanding and considerations related to animal welfare. Agriculture Minister Murray Watt supported the new standards, proclaiming they not only meet but exceed international expectations, and would provide assurance to Australia's trading partners about the country's animal welfare standards.
However, this decision has been met with significant resistance from animal welfare organisations, who regard it as a considerable setback for animal rights and will mean that 55 million individual hens will suffer.
The Animal Justice Party has been campaigning against the use of battery cages for more than 10 years. In 2021 our MP Emma Hurst led a parliamentary inquiry into the use of battery cages, the Inquiry received more than 15,000 submissions, more than than 90% of which called for an end to the use of cages. Despite this both the Liberal National Government and the Labor opposition refused to support a recommendation to phase out battery cages.
In May this year, in the first sitting week of the new NSW Parliament Emma Hurst introduced a bill to ban battery cages in NSW. We will be fighting for an immediate end to battery cages.
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.
Charting a Course Towards a Cruelty-Free Future
Addressing the issue of battery cages is not just about advocating for animal welfare; it also pertains to aligning industry practices with evolving consumer preferences. Interestingly, the market for cage eggs has been in sharp decline for over a decade as both consumers and food businesses increasingly gravitate towards cage-free alternatives. This trend is indicative of a broader societal shift towards more ethical and sustainable food consumption practices, including transitioning to a plant based diet.
While the Animal Justice Party fights for the legislative changes that hens so desperately need, you can make a difference.
So, what can we, as individuals, do to expedite the transition away from battery cages?
Firstly, our choices as consumers hold immense power. By consciously choosing free-range or over cage eggs, or choosing not to eat eggs at all, we send a powerful message to the industry about our expectations regarding animal welfare.
Secondly, we can use our voices to advocate for change. Joining or supporting organisations that campaign against battery cages can put considerable pressure on the industry and governments to rethink and reform their practices. Public opinion has played a pivotal role in bringing about animal welfare reforms in other countries, and the same can be achieved in Australia.
Thirdly, educating ourselves and others about the conditions under which hens in battery cages live is crucial. Raising awareness about this issue can inspire more people to join the cause and advocate for change.
Want to Lend a Helping Hand?
If you're interested in contributing to the fight against battery cages, know that your support can make a real difference. By joining the Animal Justice Party NSW as a party member for $44/year or $22 concession, or by contributing as a donor, you can help us in our fight to protect hens and all animals from unnecessary suffering.
Click here to become a member
Remember, ending the use of battery cages is not just about improving the welfare of hens; it's about creating an ethical, sustainable, and compassionate society. Together, we can put an end to this unjust practice and pave the way for a better future for all animals.