Recent debate about battery cages has been crowded with opinions. It’s time to refocus on what’s important: the welfare of the animals involved and the future of the egg industry.
Reviewing the standards that govern the way poultry are farmed in Australia offers an incredible, once-every-15-years opportunity to align farming practices with the best available knowledge and science.
That’s why the Victorian Government’s independently commissioned, comprehensive, scientific review of the evidence about the welfare impacts of farming birds is so momentous.
The review says that the conventional battery cage system that currently dominates our local industry “prevents birds from performing basic movements essential for good health (walking, wing stretching), and denies birds the possibility of expressing their behavioural needs to roost, nest and forage, or their motivation to dust-bathe, due to an inherent lack of resources.”
It goes on to note that caged environments “are associated with increased mortality, an increase in physiological stress and compromised immune function.”
In short, battery cages cause suffering. The evidence and the science are clear; conventional battery cage systems are inherently cruel and bad for welfare.
But what does the community think?
Battery cages are now illegal in many developed countries, phased out in recognition of both the animal welfare science and the expectations of the community.
In Australia, the majority of consumers now choose cage-free over cage egg options on the supermarket shelves.
Some of our biggest food brands in Australia and overseas are going cage-free as well – Grill’d Healthy Burgers, McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks’, Subway, Arnott’s and Mars, to name just a few.
So the question is: which path will the egg industry choose? Those who’ve followed the trajectory of welfare improvements right across primary production know there are two ways to approach change.
One option is to run to keep up, only after the patience of domestic or export customers has been exhausted – as the Australian wool and sheep-meat industries are now doing on mulesing.
The other is to anticipate the future of the industry, plan for it, and act now to support individual producers to adapt.
In 2017, good welfare is good business. So let’s forget the opinions, and focus on the evidence: for the welfare of the birds, and the welfare of the industry itself.
Dr Liz Walker
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer