Egg producers on the right side of animal welfare science
Barren battery cages for Canada’s egg-laying hens may be on their way out 5 years earlier than expected thanks to the tenacity of negotiators from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS). This timeline is part of a new NFACC draft code for the care and handling of laying hens that is being released for public comment today, which lays out the most rigorous care standards for egg-laying hens in North America.
Currently, 90% of egg-laying hens in Canada live in cramped, barren battery cages. A previous announcement from Egg Farmers of Canada on February 5, 2016 indicated that the organization’s more than 1000 member farms would be phasing out barren battery cages by 2036. The new 15-year timeline would see that goal achieved 5 years earlier.
“Speeding the transition away from barren battery cages is the right thing to do,” says Barbara Cartwright, CEO of CFHS. “We’re seeing a shift that will start to put egg producers on the right side of animal welfare science, which shows that hens experience extreme stress and frustration when they are unable to express natural behaviours like dust-bathing and foraging. These cramped cages prevent hens from walking or even spreading their wings for their entire lives. The accelerated timeline means that 129 million fewer hens will experience that kind of suffering.”
World leading standard
This new draft code would also see the introduction of world-leading cage-free standards in response to public concern about the lack of guidelines for how cage-free systems operate in Canada.
“Unregulated, cage-free housing can be just as crowded and oppressive as barren battery cages, with no enrichment for the hens and much more aggression and stress,” says Geoff Urton, a key negotiator for CFHS on the Layer Code Development Committee. “The new standards in this draft code will ensure that cage-free is as progressive as it sounds.”
“Until now, there was no requirement for dust-bathing or foraging space in Canada,” says Cartwright. “Hens spend about 70% of their time foraging, so it is unacceptable not to offer this kind of enrichment – no matter what kind of housing we’re talking about. While we would like to see enriched cages being framed as a transitional form of housing on the way to cage-free, we’re definitely seeing significant progress with this draft code. Once adopted, the ‘humane washing’ of the term cage-free will no longer be possible in Canada.
The biggest strengths of this draft code are:
- A commitment from Canada’s egg industry that no new barren battery cages will be built as of 2017
- A phase-out of barren battery cages in Canada within the next 15 years
- Stringent standards for cage-free housing systems that far surpass U.S. standards
This draft code would ensure that hens live much better lives, including:
- Perch space
- Feed and water space
- Nest boxes
- Good quality litter
- Care (for sick and injured birds)
- Enrichment (whether in enriched cages or cage-free systems)
- Improved space allowances
This draft code of practice for egg-laying hens was released for public comment today. As the only animal welfare organization sitting on the Code Development Committee, CFHS is available to comment on the pros and cons of the draft code and what the proposed changes mean for Canada’s hens. – CNW