United Poultry Concerns
Promoting the compassionate and respectful
treatment of domestic fowl

PO Box 150 • Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(757) 678-7875 • FAX (757) 678-5070

10 June 2005
Contact: Karen Davis 757-678-7875

Hens Will No Longer Be Starved But They Will Still Suffer

Full Story: http://www.upc-online.org/molting/60905suffer.htm

Machipongo, Va. – Following an intense 13-year animal advocacy campaign launched by United Poultry Concerns (UPC) in 1992, the US egg industry trade group, United Egg Producers, has issued a ban on forcing hens to drop their feathers and cease laying eggs by going without food in the practice known as forced molting – "reversing a practice followed for more than 100 years," according to the agribusiness journal Feedstuffs on May 9, 2005.

In the 20th century, US egg producers developed the practice of force-molting hens to produce eggs more cheaply by eliminating the cost of feeding the hens from 5 to 21 days until the birds lost 25 to 30 percent of their weight in "body fat, feathers, liver tissue, musculature and skeleton," according to chicken starvationist, Donald Bell.

Observing that hens being starved showed "severe frustration," "extreme hunger," "debilitation," "suffering," and "doubled mortality," animal welfare scientists called for an end to the starvation practice said to have begun in Washington State in 1932.

Force-molting-induced starvation exposes hens and their eggs to Salmonella enteritidis infection by impairing their immune systems. In 1999, United Poultry Concerns filed a Freedom of Information Act request resulting in USDA documents confirming USDA’s knowledge of the disease-producing effects of force-molting hens by starving them.

Faced with mounting criticism, United Egg Producers came up with a low-protein "molt diet" to replace food deprivation. Instead of being completely starved, force-molted hens under the new "animal welfare" regimen get just enough nutrients to maintain sufficient energy to express their suffering in being semi-starved, debeaked, unable to walk, spread their wings, perch, dustbathe or sunbathe.

Studies show that chickens perform 15,000 pecks a day and spend 50 percent to 90 percent of their day foraging – exploring the ground with their claws and beaks for bugs, plants, bits of stone and so forth. Desperate for protein, starving and semi-starved hens can be driven to pull at one anothers’ protein-rich feathers. "This is not ‘aggression,’" says UPC President Karen Davis who has led the fight to stop forced molting. "It’s the pathetic effort of half-starved creatures to fulfill their nutritional needs."

Forced molting, whether by food deprivation or nutrient restriction, does not correlate with animal care or wellbeing. Forced molting is part of a system in which "trouble occurs within flocks of hens when the quality of the total environment is inadequate," as Ruth Harrison wrote 14 years ago in New Scientist (Nov. 30, 1991).

In "The myth of the barn egg," Harrison explained why even hens uncaged in buildings suffer frustration and distorted behavior when the captive environment does not meet their needs. Improving the environment requires implementing the understanding that "it is not only the quality of the individual components but the relationship between those components that is important" to chickens, Harrison wrote.

"Eliminating the cruelty of total food deprivation is a step in the right direction," says UPC President Karen Davis. "It’s a beginning, not the end of the road. Harmful pecking is a manmade problem and there is plenty of evidence to support this claim. Unlike their captive counterparts, wild and feral chickens do not spend their time picking on each other. They’re too busy being chickens."

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