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Layer hens

In good news for millions of Aussie layer hens, on 13 July 2023 all of Australia’s Agriculture Ministers agreed to implement the national Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry – which includes a phase out date for barren battery cages.

But – a year-on from that, none of Australia’s states or territories have implemented these standards into regulation or publicly committed to ending battery cages (except the ACT, which ended battery cages in 2014).

Take action

Help say bye bye to barren battery cages as soon as possible

Sign petition here

The national Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry include a phase out of barren battery cages no later than 2036.

But this means nothing unless states and territories commit to implementing the Standards – and implement them as soon as possible.

While 2036 is a long way away – there’s no reason any jurisdiction needs to wait until then.

Every year that these Standards are not in effect means millions more intelligent, inquisitive and social hens will continue to suffer, confined to barren battery cages. In addition to layer hens, the Standards include incremental improvements for many other birds.

So we need your help. Please help by continuing to show your support for a phase out of battery cages and call for all Agriculture Ministers to implement the Standards into state/territory regulation. With your help, we’ll be able to let Australia’s Agriculture Ministers know just how many people are watching and waiting for an end to this outdated farming system.

These hens deserve nothing less.

Frequently asked questions
What is a battery cage?

A battery cage is a small, barren wire cage, about 40cm tall, that’s used to house egg-laying hens.

There are 4-7 hens confined to each cage, standing on a wire floor all day and night. Each hen has less space each than a piece of A4 paper. There’s not enough room for each hen to move around freely, stretch, flap her wings or get away from the other birds housed with her. There are many thousands of cages stacked in sheds, that may contain up to 100,000 birds. They’re called ‘battery cages’ because these stacks of cages resemble the cells of a battery unit.

For more information, visit our Knowledgebase.

How many layer hens are in battery cages?

Over 5 million layer hens in Australia are still confined to battery cages – or over 3 in 10 of all layer hens in Australia.

While the majority of Australian consumers now buy cage-free carton eggs on the supermarket shelves, many cage eggs go into food services (cafes and restaurants) or are used as ingredients in packaged and processed foods such as cake mixes, mayonnaise, etc.

To learn more, visit Cage Free & Proud or our Choose Wisely directory.

Why haven’t cages been banned in Australia before now?

The RSPCA has campaigned against battery cages in Australia for over 40 years. In 1999 the Australian Government began a review into the housing of layer hens. Sadly, despite the overwhelming evidence that hens suffer in cages, in 2000 the Council of State and Territory Agriculture Ministers decided that cages would still be used for the foreseeable future. Since then, the issue has been hotly debated, as more and more members of the community understand that layer hens’ needs can’t be met in barren battery cages.

The recent review of the Standards and Guidelines took over eight years. There was delay after delay and despite being endorsed by Ministers, there is no agreement to consistently apply the phase out of barren battery cages. So we need all state and territory Agriculture Ministers to legislate the Standards across Australia consistently.

While the Standards as they are currently drafted will still allow furnished or enriched cages to be used (which include perches, nesting areas and scratch pads), these aren’t widely used in Australia now and are unlikely to be used widely in the future as the market continues to go cage-free. Right now, ending the use of barren battery cages would mean a huge improvement for the welfare of millions of laying hens.

What is a conventional cage?

A ‘conventional cage’ is the term used by the egg industry to describe these small, barren wire cages.

In the early 2000s, regulations were changed to allow each layer hen one hundred square centimetres of extra space in barren battery cages – that’s about the size of an iPhone! The egg industry took this opportunity to re-brand the cages as ‘conventional’, to distance themselves from the growing community concern associated with ‘battery’ cages.

A ‘conventional cage’ is no different in any meaningful way to a barren battery cage, and is just as detrimental to the hens’ welfare.

What can consumers do to help?

The most important step you can take right now is to take action, and help let decision-makers know you want to see an end to barren battery cages. You can also share the link with friends and family, and on social media, to help other people take action. Right now, every voice counts.

You can also support brands that have already made the switch to cage-free eggs through our Cage Free & Proud directory, and support cafes and restaurants near you serving higher welfare food through our Choose Wisely initiative.

What are the welfare issues with battery cages?

Studies show that hens suffer in battery cages throughout their lives. Restricted movement, constantly standing on a wire floor, and a lack of perches lead to severe bone and muscle weakness. They suffer from the highest rates of disuse osteoporosis, fatty liver disease, and bone breakage during removal from their cages at the end of their productive lives. Hens do not have enough space in a battery cage to stretch or flap their wings, or exercise. They cannot express normal behaviours like perching, nesting, dust-bathing and foraging, leading to chronic stress and frustration.

Importantly, these effects are caused by the cage itself and therefore are inherent to the system – they cannot be improved significantly by, for example, good management practices.

For more information, visit our Knowledgebase.

What's happened recently?

After more than six years of being under review, the national Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry have been completed – and in good news for layer hens, they include a phase out of battery cages between 2032-2036.

But the Standards still need to be implemented in state and territory legislation. That’s why we need your help to let decision-makers know that you want to see a phase out of barren battery cages as soon as possible.

If cages are cruel, why can’t the RSPCA prosecute?

The RSPCA can only prosecute when someone is breaking the law or contravening the regulations that set minimum standards for battery cages. Currently in every state and territory except the ACT, battery cages are still legal. That’s why we need this change to the legislation.

What is a furnished, or enriched, cage?

A ‘furnished’ or ‘enriched’ cage is a cage that includes opportunities for hens to express natural behaviours, like a perch, nest area, scratch pad, and more space per bird. They are not currently used in Australia at any large scale.

While larger cages that include all of the above furnishings do obviously offer some benefits over more crowded and barren battery cages, furnished cages still don’t allow hens to perform their full range of natural behaviours. The RSPCA believes the needs and welfare of layer hens are best met in a well-managed cage-free system.

For more information, visit our Knowledgebase.

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We need decision-makers to know that the community wants to see a phase out of barren battery cages implemented without delay.

Simply enter your postcode and we’ll show you the best way you can take action, and help say bye bye to barren battery cages as soon as possible.
Take action

Help say bye bye to barren battery cages as soon as possible

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