SECRET COLONY CAGE SYSTEM EXPOSED
Secretly-filmed footage taken inside the largest battery egg farm in New Zealand shows a dark future for New Zealand's three million laying hens.
Current affairs show Campbell Live showed for the first time footage of the proposed colony battery cage systems for layer hens. The footage, taken by animal rights investigators at Mainland Poultry's main operation north of Dunedin, reveals a grim new reality for egg-laying hens. It shows tens of thousands of hens crammed into a new type of battery cage called the colony cage. These new cages are being touted by the egg industry as a suitable alternative to conventional battery cages and are expected to gain the approval of the Minister for Primary Industries, David Carter.
The Government is expected to soon release a new welfare code for layer hens.
"Mainland Poultry has refused the media access to these new battery cages and it is easy to see why," says SAFE director Hans Kriek. "They do not want the public to see the abhorrent conditions the animals are forced to live in. They do not want to explain to consumers why as many as 60 hens are crammed into cages so small they have barely any room to move. They will also have difficulty explaining the so-called enrichments which are merely window dressing rather than meaningful improvements to bird welfare."
Renowned animal behaviourist Jonathan Balcombe says of the colony battery cages that "any housing condition that confines a hen to the indoors, away from the sun and the grass and the opportunity to forage and live as nature intended, is inadequate for fulfilling its natural behaviour requirements."
"Colony battery cages do not provide the hens with the opportunity to display their normal behaviour as required by the Animal Welfare Act, so why bring in another cruel system that again breaks the law?" asks Mr Kriek.
Opinion polls show that eight out of ten New Zealanders are opposed to battery hen cages and SAFE believes the public will have been shocked at the sight of colony battery cages.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH COLONY CAGES?
The colony battery cages proposed in the draft welfare code are not an acceptable alternative to existing battery hen cages. These new modified cages still breach the law (Animal Welfare Act) as they do not allow the hens to express their normal behaviours.
• Colony cages do not provide the hens with sufficient space. The 600 square centimeters of usable space (still smaller than an A4 sheet of paper) is barely larger than the space the hens have in existing cages. The hens still cannot walk about, wing-flap, or turn around without difficulty.
• Hens in colony cages are still kept inside small cages inside semi-dark sheds. They will be standing on an uncomfortable sloping wire floor and will never enjoy sunshine or the ability to live as nature intended.
• Research shows that almost all normal hen behaviour requires more space than the 600 cm of usable space per bird in colony cages.
• Colony cages are of insufficient height and do not allow the hens to perform a normal range of head movements.
• The supposed nest boxes, perches and litter areas provided in colony cages are of such minimalist design that they fail to satisfy the hens' behavioral needs.
The severe restriction of the hens' ability to exercise is likely to lead to frustration, bone weakness, and osteoporosis - clear indicators of poor welfare. Despite the modifications, these cages are unable to provide an acceptable level of welfare for hens.
SAFE has teamed up with Compassion in World Farming (UK), Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (UK), Humane Society of the United States, Humane Farming Association (UK), Animal Welfare Institute (US) and World Society for the Protection of Animals, among others, in creating an international charter to have colony cages banned. SAFE has signed a position statement which opposes modified cages, which are also referred to as furnished, enriched or colony cages. The statement states:
"Modified cages fail to properly meet the hens' physical or behavioural needs. They provide an unacceptably restrictive amount of space per bird; severely restrict many important physical activities, including running, flying, and wing-flapping; and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing. The severe restriction of the hens' ability to exercise is likely to lead to frustration, bone weakness, and osteoporosis - clear indicators of poor welfare. Despite the modifications, these cages are unable to provide an acceptable level of welfare for hens."
Watch the story that takes a look at the future of egg production in New Zealand.
INSIDE THE CAGE
Typically, colony cages only contain one ‘nest box' for up to 60 birds. Competition for the nest box will increase aggression levels and hens will be unable to spend as much time in the nest as they would like.
Colony cages will contain perches that are placed seven centimetres above the floor level. The very height of these perches denies hens the ability to fulfill their perching needs.
Claw-shortening devices such as scratch pads only tackle the symptoms-overgrown claws-rather than the cause of the welfare problem, which is the inability of caged hens to scratch and peck meaningfully.
"Any housing condition that confines an animal to the indoors, away from the sun and the grass and the opportunity to forage and live as nature intended, is inadequate for fulfilling a hen's natural behaviours."
Dr Jonathan Balcombe, Animal Behaviourist