free range and bird flu
On this page:
Trends in intensive systems for housing laying hens in the UK
Alternatives to caged birds just as flawed
on Slaughter Methods
Avian Influenza-Not Just a Bad Cold?
and Further reading
In March this year, the Compassion in World Farming Trust
hosted a conference on farm animal sentience to discuss animal
welfare within the intensive dairy and meat industry. Birds
such as chickens, ducks, turkeys and ostriches are among those
intensively farmed and subjected to miserable conditions and
diseases from birth to slaughter.
In 2002 the UK government reviewed the laying hen industry,
reacting to forty years of animal welfare protests and campaigning.
Subsequently, the then Agricultural Minister, Elliot Morley,
said a European Union directive which had banned cages smaller
than an A4 size piece of paper would become law in Britain
earlier than the 2012 deadline recommended by Brussels.
Animal welfare organizations throughout Europe have been
battling to put an end to the cruelties of the poultry industry.
During the 1960s forty per cent of UK egg production used
Deep litter systems, where the birds were kept in loose flocks
on the floor covered with deep-litter in large warehouses.
A decade later, this method was phased out and replaced with
the tier caged battery system as this was seen as more economically
productive; caged hens would eat less food and lay more eggs
and require less labour than those housed on litter.
Trends in intensive systems for housing laying hens in the
Egg production was once based on small flocks kept on mixed
farms alongside other livestock. As farming became more specialized
the number of birds in captivity increased and semi-intensive
systems emerged where birds were kept in houses with outdoor
access. The demand for more intensive systems arose less than
fifty years ago. In 1925 the average egg consumption per person
was 125 eggs a year, today the average is 300 eggs per person.
In their natural habitat wild jungle fowl have a laying cycle
of between 18 and 20 eggs a year.
|System of Housing
Taken to include all non-cage
intensive systems (Statiistics in grey font
source:The UFAW Farm Handbook).*
The figures for 2000-04 are sourced from
The poultry industry is one of the most wasteful and cruel
intensive farming industries. Millions of male chicks are
killed with carbon dioxide gas in large plastic dustbins at
just a few days old because they are of no commercial interest
for the meat industry. According to the Compassion in World
the recycled remains of unwanted male chicks, growth hormones,
yolk, colourant and other additives end up as feed for the
Day old chicks that have been
gassed with pure CO2, (Source: FAWN)
There are over five billion hen layers worldwide producing
around 50 million tonnes of eggs per annum and Britain has
24+ million hens crammed into small cages. The cages are arranged
in rows of three to six tiers in sheds containing up to 30,000
or more birds, where ventilation, heating and lighting are
automatically controlled, and the birds are exposed to artificial
light for 17 hours a day to maximize their egg laying cycle.
Light is a primary influence on the laying hen, and is absorbed
through the thin skull to the hypothalamus, in addition to
through the retinal route. Intense artificial light exposure
increases bird activities and can lead to aggressive behaviour
such as cannibalism, feather plucking and high mortality.
Hens are confined into the battery system at 18 to 20 weeks
The egg producing industries' futile attempts at introducing
enriched cages under recent EU law now stippulates allowance
of 550cm2 ( just slightly more than
an A4 sized sheet of paper), not enough space for a hen to
stretch its wings.
In a natural environment hens would be able to express their
instinctive behaviour of dust-bathing, running, flapping their
wings and preening, exploration of their environment by pecking
at things to feed and satisfy their curiosity, and natural
In the abnormal environment of confinement hens resort to
feather plucking and pecking at other hens with little else
to stimulate them. Therefore, it is standard procedure under
requirements set out in the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England)
(Amendment) Regulations 2002 (Schedule 3d, paragraphs 8 and
9) to de-beak hens preferably at 5 to 10 days old, but it
is carried out on mature birds and causes more stress and
chronic pain. Beak trimming is done with a hotwire or a guillotine
type method of cutting by pushing the beak into a hole in
a metal plate, and a red-hot blade then slides down behind
the hole to cauterize the wounded tip of the beak. This consequently
leaves the birds in long-term pain. Beak trimming should be
carried out by skilled operators and adhere to strict guidelines
in the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962. Representatives
from the industry and animal welfare groups are working with
Defra on an action plan to ban beak trimming without compromising
bird welfare, although a review is not due till 31st December
Agricultural and Food Research Council 1992 found that fifty
percent of battery hens suffer from broken and brittle bones
from the cramped conditions and lack of exercise. They also
suffer from broken bones during live transportation to slaughter
units. Transportation of birds is a major concern as there
is often a reduction of welfare at this time of farmed animals'
lives. The animals are subjected to all kinds of stress during
transportation, including thermal micro-environment, water
and food deprivation, vibration of moving vehicle and space
restrictions. Consequentially, birds in transit are subject
to a range of pathologies. When hens have reached 72 weeks
of age, they can no longer produce eggs and are used as low-grade
chicken meat for human consumption in baby food products,
soups, pies and other foodstuffs, and the bones and meat scrap
are used for pet food.
Alternatives to caged birds just as flawed
Free range production accounts for 26 percent of the egg
production market. When there are a hundred birds or more
kept together there is no natural pecking order, in their
natural habitat wild jungle fowl tend to roam in smaller groups
and the female brooding hen or the dominant male cockerel
will control and suppress aggressive behaviour among the other
birds within small flocks, maintaining a balanced social structure.
Free range birds have no social stability in large numbers,
as it is not in their natural evolved behaviour to be in a
large flock of a hundred birds or more, therefore they become
aggressive, and cannibalism and feather plucking occurs so
that beak trimming is required. In free range houses, exits
are provided to the outside, though these are not often used
because the more aggressive birds occupy them. Under EU specifications
in free-range systems there should be no more than nine hens
per square meter indoors and not more than 2,500 per hectare
of space outside. The birds are subject to disease and predation
from foxes, mink, dogs and birds of prey. Farmers will shoot
predators such as foxes on site. Predators can cause panic
in a flock leading to stress and outbreaks of feather peaking,
rodent infestation can also lead to panic and feather plucking
in free range systems. Diseases such as Red Mite is a serious
problem in free range systems requiring close monitoring of
the flock, infestation will also induce feather pecking.
Aggression and cannibalism also occurs in percheries, because
birds are usually kept in large flocks. They are confined
indoors and with nine birds per square metre, hens may get
injured crashing into one another in this restricted space
while moving from perch to perch .
The Welfare of Hens in Free Range Systems: Action on Animal.
Defra:Cage sizes:From Statutory Instrument 2000 No.
1870 The Welfare of Farmed Animal (England) Regulations 2000.
of Public Sector Information
(i) 1000 cm2 where one hen is kept in a cage;
(ii) 750 cm2 where two hens are kept in the cage;
(iii) 550 cm2 where three hens are kept in the cage;
(iv) 450 cm2 where four or more hens are kept in the cage;
Annually, more than 20 million chickens are killed for human
consumption worldwide. In Britain we rear between 800 and
900 million broiler hens for slaughter a year and the birds
are crammed into vast warehouses.
Broilers have been selectively bred to mature fast and growth
hormones are added to their feed, resulting in birds being
deformed as their muscles grow more rapidly than their skeletons
can form, so the birds' legs are unable to support the weight
of their body. Most birds become lame and many immobile throughout
their short lives.
6 Week Old Broiler Chicks (Source:
Broilers are usually slaughtered at 42 days of age, while
thirty years ago they took twice as long to reach the desired
weight of a modern broiler ready to be slaughtered. Broilers
are kept in windowless houses on litter systems and are forced
to sit on their own excrement, suffering burns and blisters
to their flesh and feet and eye blindness from the ammonia.
Blisters from ammonia (Source:
Issues on Slaughter Methods
In a new United Poultry
Concern press release, poultry expert Dr. Mohan Raj (University
of Bristol in England), said that gaseous stun/kill system,
known as "Controlled Atmosphere Stunning" ( by using
inert argon and nitrogen gas), is said to eliminate or greatly
reduce the suffering of birds at point of slaughter, more
typical methods are electrical stunning. PETA
(Peaple for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) announced
that chicken suppliers to McDonalds and KFC are scalded to
death while the birds are still conscious because typical
methods of stunning fail to work. Other forms of gasing using
pure CO2 causes a painfully slow death of suffocation. Mcdonalds
have recently claimed, it is researching more humane methods
to slaughter chickens, such as using Controlled Atmosphere
Killing a method used by some European suppliers.
Avian Influenza-Not Just a Bad Cold?
flu is a product of intensive poultry farming practices
in the East; In Southeast Asia, poultry farmers are encouraged
(through financial gain) to produce meat on a large scale,
which is exported to satisfy a high demand from American and
European consumers. It is cheaper for western fast food manufacturers
and poultry meat suppliers to import from the east. The intense
output places an obvious strain on the conditions these birds
are kept in. Millions of birds have died from Avian influenza
(H51N1) or have been culled if infected, they are usually
burned or buried alive, for quick disposal and to avoid contamination.
The EU is beginning to see the possible dangers that a spread
of the infection may cause.
Ducks at Hanoi Market ( Source:
Scientists are now saying that the H51N1 Bird Flu virus is
showing signs of evolving and mutating to become transmitted
from human to human without consumption of infected poultry
meat. The WHO
continue to announce new cases of the human bird flu in Vietnam
and new cases have emerged again in Thailand. In Indonesia
a pig has been certified to have bird flu and investigations
are yet to be made as to how the pig was infected. Vietnam's
City of Ho Chi Minh have just annouced there will be a three
month ban from November this year on raising poultry.
Measures are needed to make sure that bird flu is not a disease
that will take hold of Southeast Asia, mutating to a human
strain and causing a possible pandemic. The virus has already
been transferred to pigs, cats and goats, humans have so far
only been infected whilst being in close proximity to infected
birds. There is no treatment for combating infection and humans
die very quickly after contracting the virus.
Animal welfare issues need to be addressed regarding the
culling of infected birds and the decision to contain "free
range" animals within buildings whilst the pandemic is
progressing throughout Asia and Europe.
Sources and Further reading:
Egg Statitistics for July 2005
Labelling information provided by CIWF (Compassion in World
Instrument 2002 No. 1646
The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations
Action on animal health and welfare: The welfare of hens in
free range systems.
: Codes of Recommendation for the welfare of livestock
Website: Welfare of meat chickens: Welfare Standards
Website: A guide to the practical management of feather pecking
and cannibalism in free range laying hens.
Website: Egg Market Regulations.
Website: Codes of Recommendations for the welfare of livestock:
Website: Eggs and Poultry- Legislation in Poultry Sector
Website: Codes of Recommendation for the welfare of livestock:
Website: Codes of recommendation for the welfare of livestock:
Meat chickens and breeding chickens.
Website: Poultry Litter Management: Litter Associated Conditions
Website: Farm animal welfare
Report: Poultry and Poultry Meat Statistics
Agricultural Atlas for livestock and crops
( also available as reports).
(Farm Animal Welfare Council) Report on Welfare of Laying
Instrument 1995 No. 731
The Welfare of Animals ( Slaughter or Killing) Regulations
Schedule 7/Regulations 11/ Killing Pigs and Birds by Exposure
to Gas Mixtures
UK Branch. 27th Poultry Science Symposium,
Welfare of the Laying Hen 17th -20th July 2003 -Abstracts
of Presentations and Posters- at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, Bristol,
UFAW. Ed. Ewbank,
R., Kim-Madslien, F, Hart, C.B.,4th Ed.1999. Management and
Welfare of Farm Animals-The UFAW Farm Handbook.
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