Caged hens are less stressed than free range: UK study

A UK study has found that hens living in "enriched cages" are less stressed and have lower mortality rates than their free range counterparts.

While demand for free range chicken and eggs has grown substantially in recent times, with consumers increasingly concerned about animal welfare standards, Professor Christine Nicol, who led the research at the University of Bristol, said many free range farms in the UK have poor welfare standards.

According to dailymail.co.uk, shoppers concerned about welfare standards should look for caged hens or free range hens that are pat of a farm assurance scheme.

"It would be nice to think the current free-range system gave the birds the best welfare, but the problem is that the management of free-range systems in the UK is so variable. Although you get some brilliant farms, you get some that are really not good," Nicol said.

Battery farming for chickens was outlawed in 2012 and replaced with 'enriched cages' which have 70 or 80 birds living in stacked enclosures with access to food, water and scratching posts.

In regards to the Australian market, Woolworths has committed to phasing out its caged eggs within the next four or five years, after which it will stock RSPCA or other certified fresh chickens. This move has been welcomed by Animals Australia, but president of the Victorian Farmers Federation egg group, Brian Ahmed, said it will be costly for Australian farmers and consumers.

He said many farmers converted to new cage systems only five years ago, which were then fully compliant with industry standards, and is doubtful that farmers will receive any compensation for moving away from caged systems. 

In September this year, the ACT introduced an animal welfare bill to the Legislative Assembly, which if passed will prohibit the use of battery cages, sow stall and farrowing crates. This would make the ACT the first state in Australia to legislate against factory farming.


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