Europe Bans Battery Hen Cages

"A New Era of Humanity for Hens"?

On June 17th, the European Union announced a Europe-wide ban on battery-hen cages by the year 2012. Compassion in World Farming, which has battled vigorously to ban the cages--"the oldest, and perhaps most cruel, of the factory farm systems"-- hailed the decision by European lawmakers as "a new era of humanity for hens."

Chickens Lib
Illustration by Nigel Burroughs

Noting that "Battery cages can never fulfil the behavioural and physiological needs of birds," the RSPCA, while praising the ban, was "disappointed that it won't happen for another 13 years." A group that has fought tirelessly for chickens in the UK, Farm Animal Welfare Network (FAWN), also expressed "dismay at the time-scale of the ban," while welcoming the EU-wide ban on this most "notorious form of cruel exploitation." Meanwhile, existing cage systems will be slightly improved: by reducing the number of hens per cage, space per hen will increase from 70 square inches to 86 square inches. (In the US, space per hen is 48 to 64 sq. inches.)

An argument egg producers in the UK (and US) have used to oppose noncage systems is that hens can get into fights in these systems. But as FAWN points out, such fighting is mainly the result of high stocking densities (2 sq. ft or less per bird) and abnormal flock sizes (thousands of birds packed together on a single floor). In addition, debeaking promotes compulsive pecking in many birds, indicating chronic phantom limb pain in the highly sensitive mutilated beak.

As for the battery cage, the writing is on the wall. EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said at the announcement of the ban that continued use of battery cages "generates the strongest negative public reaction, a fact which producers and policy makers would be foolish to ignore." For further information on battery hens in the United Kingdom (the UK is a member state of the European Union), contact The Farm Animal Welfare Network, PO Box 40, Holmfirth, Huddersfield HD7 1QY UK. Tel 01484 688650; fax 01484 689408. (Postal code: 011 44)

What Can I Do?
  • Tell your local retailer you will no longer buy eggs that come from hens in cages. (All eggs sold in the US come from battery-caged hens unless the carton specifically states otherwise.) Tell your retailer to pass this information on to their supplier. AND DON'T BUY THEM! Contact United Poultry Concerns for our recipe booklet Replacing Eggs.