It’s been a long fight so far to free Aussie hens from battery cages. Here’s the story so far, and a recap of how far we’ve come and how all of us have been able to make a difference:
After previously raising concerns about the failure of the poultry standards advisory group to consider and reflect the science on battery cages, the RSPCA stepped up and conducted its own review.
The Welfare of Layer Hens in Cage and Cage-Free Housing Systems report – authored by Dr Kate Hartcher – found overwhelming scientific evidence that hens in battery cages live with frustration and suffering from being unable to flap or stretch their wings, perch, nest, forage, or dust bathe.
The findings of the report were that the poor welfare of battery caged hens is caused by the cages themselves and cannot be overcome; and Australia is falling behind the developed world in failing to end their use.
(Dr Hartcher’s report was later comprehensively peer-reviewed and published in a leading international poultry welfare journal)
Concerned about the disappointing response and lack of progress from the egg industry, the RSPCA launched a national billboard campaign to raise awareness of the plight of 11 million smart, social layer hens still kept in crowded, barren battery cages.
A dozen billboards in key locations across the country depicted the haunting black and white image of hens in a barren battery cage. The accompanying text was simple and true: ‘Battery cages cause suffering.’
The RSPCA’s concerns over the poultry standards development process are proven to be well-founded, with the first wave of extensive media coverage highlighting the failings of the process so far and raising serious questions over the integrity of the group.
For the first time in its history, RSPCA Australia flags that - if these serious concerns aren’t satisfactorily addressed – it will reconsider its involvement and support for the process altogether.
Echoing the rising concerns about the validity of the new standards if not based on science, the Victorian Government takes the extraordinary step of conducting its own scientific review.
While the Victorian Government remained committed to the process, the decision was a strong indication that the government felt it could not rely on the standards development process to inform its decision-making.
Australian restaurant chain Grill’d Healthy Burgers become a major ally in the fight against cruelty in farming, and joins the RSPCA’s campaign to actively support an end to battery cages in Australia.
Grill’d restaurants across the country have only served free range eggs since they opened their doors in 2004.
The results of the Victorian Government’s scientific review are released, and – consistent with the RSPCA’s own report – it finds good animal welfare cannot be achieved in battery cages.
The review stated that, “The conventional cage system 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 also said the restricted space per hen in battery cages is “associated with increased mortality, an increase in physiological stress and compromised immune function.”
As the opening of public consultation on the draft standards loomed, the RSPCA warned that poor standards and lack of science would only jeopardise Australia’s farming future.
The RSPCA said Australians and consumers are at risk of being misled by weak and inadequate standards that are easily debunked by science and do not reflect community expectations.
The statement follows the publication of RSPCA Australia Scientific Officer Dr Kate Hartcher’s review, The welfare of layer hens in cage and cage-free systems, on the World’s Poultry Science Journal – where even today, it remains the ‘most read’ article!
Meanwhile, the RSPCA published breakthrough independent research which found that the number of Australians concerned about the welfare of battery-caged layer hens had increased to 3 in every 4, and an overwhelming 8 in 10 of us want to see battery cages phased out.
Respected former politician, lawyer and now Chair of RSPCA Australia Gary Humphries also voiced strong concerns about problems in the process used to develop new farming Standards and Guidelines, saying any ‘animal welfare’ component had been ignored entirely.
On 26 November, the long-overdue public consultation on new poultry standards opened, and as expected, the standards are inadequate and not based on science or evidence.
Unwilling to link its valuable reputation to the ‘weak and embarrassing’ draft standards, the RSPCA was forced to vocally distance itself from the process.
The Australian egg industry was rocked by reports of the egg industry colluding with Government departments to sabotage the efforts to phase out cruel battery cages. Behind-the-scenes collusion and inappropriate behaviour was exposed on ABC’s 7:30.
FOI documents of executive emails between state Government departments revealed the level of ‘stage-managing’ that had been taking place to influence the drafting of new poultry welfare standards to benefit the egg industry.
As the public consultation came to a close, independent research commissioned by the RSPCA found income and education wasn’t necessarily a factor in influencing whether Australians are concerned about battery cages and wanting to see them phased out.
Research also proved there was no city/country divide when it came to caring about hen welfare. 82% of rural Australians, and 72% of Australians in regional centres are concerned or very concerned about battery cages.
As part of their submission to the consultation, Egg Farmers of Australia (EFA) announced a “temporarily regulated cap on current conventional cage farming.” However, this is only temporary and cage egg farming continues with business as usual with 9 million hens still forced to live their lives in a cage.
The public consultation closed on Monday 26 February. Over 165,000 submissions were received from concerned Australians, and many were outraged that the draft standards failed to include a phase-out of battery cages despite the overwhelming science stating that cages are cruel.
After being overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of submissions, and still unable to reach agreement, state and territory agriculture ministers appoint an independent panel on poultry welfare to finalise the drafting of the standards and to make recommendations on the future of battery cages.
Soon, we expect to receive the final draft standards from the independent panel for comment. We’ll then need your help to make sure they lead to a phase out of battery cages once and for all. For now, you can sign up to get updates on the fight ahead, and we’ll let you know how you can help.