Stop stuffing poultry birds in ‘battery cages’, says Law Commission

Chickens being transported in cages | Source: Wikimedia Commons

A distinction must be drawn between the produce obtained from cage-free egg farming and battery-cage farming, the Law Commission recommendations say. 

Even as the debate on animal welfare has been hijacked by the issue of cattle slaughter, the Law Commission has submitted a report seeking to put an end to the practice of confining birds in battery cages.

The report, titled ‘The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Egg Laying Hens) Rules, 2017 and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Broiler Chicken) Rules, 2017’, has been drafted in response to a reference from the Ministry of Law and Justice to look into the existing laws and international practices on the transport and housekeeping of poultry birds.

The recommendations of the report, dated July 3, cover both egg-laying hens (layers) and the meat producing hens (broilers).

A distinction must be drawn between the produce obtained from cage-free egg farming and battery-cage farming, the recommendations say. The poultry farms must also be certified by the Animal Husbandry departments of the states.

The report also notes that the expansion of the poultry business into a massive industry has led to a particularly crippling phenomenon among birds, wherein broiler chickens are bred and raised to gain maximum body weight in the shortest period of time. As a result, the birds suffer from a range of deformities and lameness. The commission recommends that the usage of broiler battery cages should be discontinued altogether.

The poultry industry, which is likely to be badly hit if the use of battery cages is outlawed, has opposed the recommendations.

“It is an unaffordable and infeasible proposal,” says Dr. A.K. Sharma, a coordinator at the Poultry Federation of India.

Dismissing the claims by animal welfare activists, Sharma said, “For them the comfort of animals is more important than the comfort of human beings”.

“We have full confidence in the agriculture ministry…We are very close to Radha Mohan Singh. It is organisations like Animal Welfare Board which are a problem,” he said.

In 2012, the Animal Welfare Board of India had issued an advisory to the environment ministry, recommending that it adopt the draft Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (egg-laying hen) Rules and phase out battery cages for egg-laying hens by January 2017. The ministry, however, is yet to act on the recommendation.

Last year, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the government for its lack of action to improve the conditions under which egg-laying hens are kept across the country.

The name ‘battery cages’ comes from the battery like arrangement of cages – one next to and atop the other – in which hens are stuffed. Typically, the space accorded to each hen is no more than the size of an A-4 size sheet. They eat, sleep and defecate at the same spot all their lives, sometimes even when a dead cage-mate lies right next to them.

According to research, this arrangement leaves no space for the birds to perform activities essential for their physical and mental health, including nesting, dust-bathing, perching and roosting, scratching and foraging, comfort behaviour and exploring, thereby relegating them to a life fraught with suffering and misery.

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