Let's be good sports and abolish battery cages
The plight of caged chickens.
First England won the Ashes from us; now they can declare that they're the first to abolish battery cages.
Before we worry about beating the British on the cricket grounds next year, we must take steps to ensure that our animal welfare practices can at least match theirs.
In compliance with a 1999 European Union directive that took effect last month, British egg farmers increased the amount of space that hens live in from 550 square centimetres to 750 square centimetres per bird.
A battery hen, rescued by the RSPCA in Melbourne. Photo: Jason South
The hens also now must have nests, perches to sit on, unrestricted access to a feed trough that measures at least 12 centimetres per bird and litter so that the birds can engage in natural forms of behaviour, such as pecking and scratching.
These changes are hardly revolutionary, but they are indicative of Britain's larger social movement to reform practices that cause harm and suffering to animals.
Many people will no longer accept activities that cause suffering – and it shows in the European Union's laws and business practices. Many British consumers, for example, began buying only free-range eggs long before the new rules took effect.
British egg farmers have reportedly invested more than $A589 million to ensure that egg-laying hens have at least enough space to spread their wings and move around more comfortably.
Food and farming minister Jim Paice has assured British consumers that any egg farmer who fails to comply with the new regulations could face a criminal conviction.
In Australia, however, little has been done to ensure the welfare of egg-laying hens.
There are no impending plans to ban battery cages. Approximately 11 million chickens are confined to battery farms here – they aren't able to stretch their wings, warm themselves in the sun, dustbathe, preen, perch or do any of the other things that are natural and important to them.
Instead, they are confined to filthy, dark sheds containing row upon row of tiny wire mesh cages.
As many as seven birds may be crammed into a single cage, with each bird allowed a space of only 450 square centimetres (smaller than a sheet of A4 paper – not even enough room to spread a single wing).
The birds sustain crippling leg injuries from standing on wire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many caged hens suffer from broken or brittle bones and weak muscles.
The crowded, unsanitary conditions are the ideal breeding ground for diseases, but sick and injured birds are left to suffer without any veterinary care. Many birds die, and survivors are often forced to live among the rotting corpses of their cage mates.
To prevent these miserable, imprisoned birds from pecking at one another out of stress and deprivation, farmers cut a portion of each hen's sensitive beak off with a hot blade – without any painkillers.
Since male chicks don't lay eggs, they are useless to egg-laying hatcheries, and farm operators routinely suffocate them or throw them into high-speed grinding machines.
When hens begin to lay fewer eggs, they are sent to the slaughterhouse, where workers hang them upside down in shackles and cut their throats before immersing them in water that's hot enough to scald off their feathers. Some of them remain conscious throughout the entire process.
These tormented birds feel pain just as we do. They're social and inquisitive animals who form strong family ties, learn from watching one another, worry about the future and mourn when they lose a loved one.
We can – and should – treat them less cruelly. Let's be good sports and abolish battery cages, just as Britain has done.
In the meantime, consumers can get eggs from reputable free-range farms or, better yet, simply to stop eating eggs.
Compassionate Australians will surely agree that this is not too much to ask.
Jason Baker is the director of campaigns for PETA Australia.