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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.
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
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:
- 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
- Risk from endo and ectoparasites is low and easily
- Beak trimming is not necessary in all cases.
- No predation problems.
- Prevention or modification of certain normal behaviours
due to lack of space and facilities.
- Unable to escape aggression from other birds if this
- 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
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
- 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.