OUTCRY OVER MISGUIDED CHIEF VET’S DEFENCE OF CAGES
Progress has been slow but sure. Over the last decade we’ve seen the banning of systems such as the veal crate and the battery cage in the UK and the EU.
Over the past two or three years incredible progress has been made towards ending the caging of hens in the so-called enriched cages that many producers adopted when battery cages were banned, rather than moving to more humane free-range or barn systems.
I’m proud of the role that Compassion in World Farming has played in convincing companies from all around the world, including Starbucks, Sodexo, Nestlé and Wagamama, to make cage-free commitments.
How depressing in the face of all this progress to have to be battling with Defra’s Chief Vet, Nigel Gibbens, who is lamenting retailer action to stop selling caged eggs because of the “threat from bird flu”.
The suggestion that keeping hens indoors will protect them from bird flu presupposes that wild birds mainly spread bird flu. However, in December 2016 the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds advised that this is not the case, stating: “Typically, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks are associated with intensive domestic poultry production and associated trade and marketing systems”.
I would agree that in some cases free-range hens are best brought indoors until an outbreak of bird flu has ended. However, that is very different from saying that, to combat bird flu, it may be better for hens to be kept indoors throughout their lives.
The so-called enriched cages that the Chief Vet says “have a lot going for them” provide hens with slightly more space than the now-banned battery cage. They contain some rudimentary features meant to mimic things that hens need, like a nest. In truth, they are little better than barren battery cages. No hen I’ve ever encountered would choose to live in such conditions. For example, the height of the cages is too low to allow hens to perform normal movements such as head-stretching, wing flapping and body shaking.
Thankfully, there’s been an outcry in response to the Chief Vet’s comments.
If the UK Government is to be seen to respect animal sentience post-Brexit, as it has promised to do, it should take action to ban the use of all caged confinement of farm animals.
Thank goodness that businesses act faster than governments and how grateful we are to the companies taking action to end the cage age.