THERE’S not a single egg battery in Perth state MP John Carey’s electorate, but chook welfare tops concerns raised by constituents.
“I have been inundated with emails from people opposed to cage eggs and who want to see higher welfare standards,” Mr Carey says, noting 150 calls and emails so far.
“I have to say it’s taken me by surprise: It’s an issue that appears to cut across age, sex, and demographics.”
The discussion was sparked by the federal government calling for submissions on proposed chicken welfare standards.
Mr Carey backs WA agriculture minister Alannah MacTiernan’s assessment the draft doesn’t alleviate suffering, but says he’d go even further.
“My personal view is that we should phase out caged hens full stop,” he says.
About 70 per cent of egg-laying hens in Australia live in battery cages.
Apart from cheaper eggs, Egg Farmers Australia claims caged chickens have lower mortality and cannibalism rates compared to their barn and free range cousins, and suffer similar levels of stress.
The RSPCA wants cages banned, saying an area the size of an A4 piece of paper isn’t enough room to stretch a wing, let alone practise instinctive behaviours like perching or taking dust baths.
Part of the problem in comparing welfare between farming types is that standards allow free range birds to be stocked so densely that angry pecking and cannibalism is still rife.
Mr Carey says shoppers would be surprised by how many chickens can be stuffed into one space and still have their eggs sold as “free range”.
The CSIRO’s model code of practice is 1500 hens per hectare, but a Choice magazine survey found many WA brands packing 10,000 birds into the same area.
Crowded chickens can get anxious and aggressive, so many farmers trim the beaks of chicks using an infrared beam, following up regrowth with a 700-degree blade that cuts and cauterises the tip.
The RSCPA says this causes “pain and stress” to the animals and wants its use minimised as much as possible.
by DAVID BELL