Compassion views the reported comments over the weekend by the Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, as deeply misguided and completely outdated.
At a recent industry conference, Nigel Gibbens was reported to describe the commitment by leading retailers, including Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, to stop selling caged eggs by 2025 as a “regrettable move” because of the threat from bird flu.
He is in a shrinking minority in feeling that colony cages “have a lot going for them” over barren battery cages, confusing the need to house birds during high risk periods of avian influenza with the barbaric act of caging them throughout their entire lives.
Systems that deprive animals of their most basic behaviours do not have a place in our future food system and are outdated in the eyes of the consumer.
Systems that are fit for the future
Compassion congratulates and supports the UK retailers that have made 2025 cage-free commitments. Those taking the issue seriously are investigating the best design of systems to meet not only their business model, but the welfare needs of hens to deliver a good quality of life.
Designing systems with the hens’ characteristics in mind tell us that we need to provide them with separate functional areas for resting, nesting, and for performing different activities that are important to them.
They need areas for foraging and scratching and substrates to peck at or to dustbathe in, as well as ample space for walking, running and wing-flapping.
The use of verandas provide additional activity spaces for these purposes and can be used in both barn systems or in free-range systems, particularly when birds need to be temporarily housed in emergencies such as an outbreak of avian flu.
Supporting the cage-free movement
Enriched cages fail to properly meet the hens’ physical and behavioural needs; seriously restricting their ability to move around and exercise, let alone perch, scratch and dustbathe. Caged systems are not only outdated but not what a rapidly growing number of consumers expect and demand.
The government has the opportunity now to support the very best of free range and barn designs with post-CAP subsidies; it could encourage its public procurement to be 100% cage free; and it should support free range farmers if their hens are required to be housed indoors during an outbreak of avian flu. (e.g. Extend the use of free-range labels to include 16 weeks of housing.)
Other nations across Europe, many with Government support, have already committed to going cage free:
- Germany has banned enriched cages with effect from 2025.
- In Germany and the Netherlands, ALL retailers have now banned shell eggs from caged systems in their stores, and many are already working towards introducing cage-free egg ingredient across their supply chains.
- Austria has banned enriched cages from 2020.
- In France president Emmanuel Macron announced in October that by 2022, all shell eggs sold in French supermarkets will have to be free-range and that the government will financially support this transition.
Compassion encourages the UK Government to act as animal welfare leaders, not laggards and assign the cage to the history books once and for all.
Instead of criticising those retailers and businesses showing enlightenment and forward-thinking, our government should be congratulating them on their leadership and supporting their transition to go cage-free.