On January 1, 2012, battery cages for laying hens were banned throughout the European Union and replaced with ‘enriched’ cages.
What was supposed to be a victory for animal welfare and a huge step towards improving the lives of farmed chickens may not be quite the cause for celebration that many animal advocates had hoped for.
What Is An Enriched Cage?
Enriched cages are basically still battery cages. Despite the new welfare laws, enriched cages fail miserably in even attempting to fulfill the needs of the hens imprisoned behind their bars.
The EU Directive states that enriched cages must include a perch, a nest and a littered area for pecking and scratching, as well as additional space, meaning that each hen now has space that equates to little more than a sheet of A4 paper.
The hens, sometimes up to 90 per cage, will still never fly. These tiny cages where they spend the duration of their lives still offer no space for stretching or flapping their wings.
The perch is a piece of metal raised 2 inches off the floor of their cage. Barely off the ground, it will most likely be seen by the hen as part of the floor and not as a perch. The heartbreaking reality is that for hens stuck in what is in effect a battery cage, a perch offers a vast improvement on permanently gripping a harsh sloping metal grid floor.
The word nest conjures up thoughts of cozy straw that the birds could take comfort in, but in the case of enriched cages, the nest is simply a piece of plastic creating a screened area, behind which the hen will find the same sloping cage, only this time the metal grid floor is covered by a matting of sorts. There are no nesting materials provided to build a nest.
The littered area for pecking and scratching consists of a small square of Astroturf that soon becomes covered in excrement. There is no dust bathing and the hens will never experience the daylight.
As there is only one nest and very limited perching and scratching areas, the hens are forced to compete for access to these sites. Dominant hens may prevent others from ever being able to utilize these facilities.
An Animal Welfare Victory?
From a welfare perspective, some, including Peter Singer, consider the introduction of enriched cages to be a major advance in animal welfare and something to be celebrated. Singer expresses that the move to enriched cages shows that we are becoming a more civilized and humane society.
The question is, how humane are enriched cage farms? Investigations show that the enriched cage farms look all too similar to the old farms. We have simply replaced one cage with another.
See for yourself the reality of enriched cage farms in the video from Animal Aids undercover investigation below:
Hens on enriched cage farms are still living in the most unnatural environment possible. They will never feel the grass beneath their feet or the sunlight on their feathers. They cannot stretch to full height nor fully open their wings. They cannot forage, dust bathe, build a nest, hatch their young, or engage in any of their natural behaviors.
Hens don’t need bigger, enriched cages. They need freedom.
Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals