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Conventional battery cages

95. Laying cages are designed to house small groups of hens (usually less than 10). The cages have perforated sloping floors (through which manure passes), feed troughs and drinkers, and are arranged in rows and tiers within a building which usually provides a controlled environment.

96. Council Directive 88/166/EEC, laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens in battery cages, prescribes a minimum space allowance of 450cm²/hen. Research work has shown that this restricts or prevents some behaviour patterns. It has been demonstrated that 600cm²/hen is better since this provides the hens with space to perform a wider range of their normal behaviour patterns; they can also continue to share the space of other birds in the cage. In 1989 FAWC wrote to the European Commission calling for an early review of the Directive and stating that it considered the prescribed space allowance of 450cm²/hen was inadequate. We recommended then that space allowances in cages should be increased to a minimum of 600cm²/hen. In the introduction to the Government code of recommendations for the welfare of domestic fowls (1987), GB Agriculture Ministers stated that 600 cm² was more appropriate in welfare terms and indicated their commitment to seek improvements when the EC Directive was reviewed. No change has yet been introduced.

97. In its recent review of the available evidence, the Scientific Veterinary Committee concluded that behaviours requiring much space are less frequent in cages than in other systems. The SVC report went on to state that because of its small size and barrenness, the battery cage as used at present has inherent severe disadvantages for the welfare of hens. There are scientific studies which have found that hens use more than 450cm² when performing certain normal behaviours. For example, it has been shown that hens use between 1000 and 2000cm² when turning, wing flapping and preening. On the other hand, studies have demonstrated that providing space at 800-1200cm²/hen in cages may increase levels of aggression. We believe that the advice given by FAWC in 1989 was correct: space allowance should be raised to a minimum of 600cm²/hen.

Recommendation

98. FAWC believes strongly that conventional cages with a minimum space allowance of 450cm²/hen, as prescribed in the present EC Directive (88/166/EEC), are unacceptable and that more space must be provided as a matter of urgency. We recommend that the Directive should be amended immediately to require a minimum space allowance in all battery cages of 600cm²/hen within five years and with immediate effect in new installations. Uniform and effective implementation and enforcement of the amended Directive are essential throughout the EU; imports of eggs from third countries should be subject to the same conditions.

99. Whilst newly installed facilities should incorporate this increase immediately,in the very near future we recognise that a phasing out periodwill may be required for existing systems. However, many cages currently measure 50cm x 50cm giving an area of 2500cm², normally for five birds. In such cages the space per bird could be increased to 625cm² if one bird was removeded. We believe that this change could take place across the EU forthwith as regulations in some other countries in the EU already prescribe a minimum greater than the 450cm² in the current Directive. An early move towards a minimum of 600cm²/bird is, therefore, a realistic proposition.

100. An increase in space allowance to a minimum of 600cm² per hen represents a 33% rise from the present space requirement. Whatever the EU Agriculture Ministers decide, we urge them to seek an immediate change to the EC Directive requirements for space and suggest that they consider how the industry should be involved in and informed about future long-term plans for continuing welfare improvements.

101. Battery cage summary assessment:

Pros:

  • Easy to control environment; e.g. temperature, feed and water, light level and period all easily controlled throughout the year.
  • Aggression suppressed by space restriction.
  • Small colony size.
  • Good disease control with birds separated from their droppings.
  • Risk from endo and ectoparasites is low and easily controlled.
  • Beak trimming is not necessary in all cases.
  • No predation problems.

Cons:

  • Prevention or modification of certain normal behaviours due to lack of space and facilities.
  • Unable to escape aggression from other birds if this occurs.
  • Cage structure may cause feather damage by abrasion and foot problems caused by the (sloping) wire floor.
  • Confinement leads to weak bones and an increased risk of breakages at depopulation.
  • Inspection difficulties, particularly the top and bottom tiers.

102. Battery cages which do not provide a nest box, perch or litter arguably cause hens frustration and suffering. It may be that battery cages in their present form should be phased out throughout the EU if hens can be practically provided with greater space, nests, perches and possibly scratching, foraging and dust bathing facilities in other systems without increasing injurious pecking. FAWC is of the opinion that the use of conventional battery cages should be phased out in the long term with the following provisos which should be energetically pursued:

  • The UK industry must be protected from unfair competition from elsewhere within the EU; phasing out throughout the EU must take place simultaneously.
  • Imports of shell eggs and egg products into the EU must be banned from those countries in which conventional battery cages are still used. GATT/WTO arrangements should not be allowed to prevent these measures and, if necessary, the UK Government should seek an amendment to the agreement in order to protect the welfare of animals.
  • There are signs that genetic selection for reduced injurious pecking behaviour may remove an obstacle to the widespread use of non-cage systems. The phasing out of battery cages should not be effected until after the elimination, or successful control, of injurious pecking and cannibalism through genetic progress or improvements to management technique.