Australia has recently announced its plans to phase out the use of battery cages for its commercial laying hens – a huge win in a long battle for animal welfare and improving the lives of millions of hens.
As of 2036 Australia’s laying hens will be freed from barren, wire cages after seven years of negotiations and over 40 years of campaigning from animal welfare groups with the poultry industry. From this year onwards, egg farmers must provide hens with nesting areas, access to perches and various platforms as well as areas to scratch about in. From the point of change, laying hens will be required to have 750cm sq of space per bird, so that they may exhibit more natural behaviours in line with good welfare practice.
Not only are commercial laying hens set to benefit from the new guidelines, but hens bred for their meat will have enrichment items provided and ducks will also be given access to water to bathe and swim in.
Seeing hens freed from confined cages and being able to enjoy better welfare is at the core of our work here at the British Hen Welfare Trust. At the close of 2011 we were proud to see the very last battery hen, Liberty, rehomed to our founder, Jane, in time for the long-awaited EU-wide ban on battery cages.
But is it enough?
Whilst this is a monumental win for Australia’s layers, there are many who are calling the deadline inexcusable and unnecessarily lengthy. Rochelle Flood from World Animal Protection called out the 2036 deadline as “simply not good enough”.
“While it is encouraging that the government have finally made an announcement after seven years of review, they can, and must, do better,” Ms Flood said. “A 2036 phase-out of battery cages is simply not good enough for the millions of hens in Australia, who will continue to suffer in cruel battery cages.
“Already, during the seven years of the review, 35 million hens were made to suffer in conventional battery cages. Up to 55 million more hens could be forced to live in cages, until 2036.”
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi spoke out about the length of the deadline, saying: “People absolutely do not want hens being kept in battery cages under such cruel and inhumane conditions for another decade or more,” she said. “Australia is well behind other countries on the international stage and frankly it’s a travesty.”
RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell commented: “While 2036 may seem a long way away – and it is – putting an end date in place is vitally important so that producers can transition to cage-free systems as soon as possible.
“But there’s no reason that we need to wait until 2036 – states and territories can implement a phase out ahead of schedule.”
Could the ban spell problems for egg farmers?
Australian egg farmers are reported to rely on 30-year loans to pay for cages, a reason that CEO Melinda Hashimoto said the new guidelines were a “slap in the face” to such farmers, as a 10/15 year deadline “could derive many family egg farmers to the wall”.
Reports from concerned farmers, through Egg Farmers of Australia, were said to lobby for continued use of battery cages until 2046, else an earlier phase-out would mean requiring taxpayer-funded compensation to those who would be left in financial difficulties.
What do you think about Australia’s battery cage ban timeline?
At the BHWT we understand the delicate relationship between farmers and their livestock and the need for good welfare as well as a supportive income. We will be following Australia’s movements on the egg industry closely as the new guidelines move into place and look forward to the day when the country’s laying hens can forever live free from confined cages.