By Matthew Melton, UK Corporate Relations Manager at The Humane League UK
When it comes to eradicating cages from farming, food companies have a big role to play. Due to corporate commitments to go cage-free in their egg supply chains, it is estimated that 80-90% of UK egg production will come from cage-free systems by 2025. But even with the industry turning to higher welfare, hens that lay eggs are still at risk of living a life confined to a cage. That’s why The Humane League UK is fighting for the introduction of legislation to end the use of cages for hens – for good.
What is the problem?
Tremendous headway has been made in recent years to move towards higher welfare farming systems for hens. Major companies across all industry sectors have already transitioned to cage-free systems or have committed to go cage-free over the next few years. This means that by 2025, the vast majority of the egg supply chain in the UK will be cage-free.
However, the problem of cages doesn’t end there. Even with all these commitments, approximately 4-8 million hens will remain in caged confinement come 2025.
The science on how cages are detrimental to a hen’s health is clear. Hens commonly suffer from feather loss due to stress and pecking in cage systems and can’t carry out the natural behaviours they feel strongly motivated to do, such as dust-bathing and stretching their wings. They are also denied access to natural light and become more prone to disease. All of this applies not only to battery cages, which were banned in 2012, but also to so-called ‘enriched’ cages which, despite offering slightly more space and provisions, are still proven to negatively impact the well-being of chickens.
With this in mind, and with millions of hens still facing a life behind bars in four years’ time, it’s imperative that we call on the UK Governments to change the law to ban cages for hens, once and for all.
What is the solution?
Meet Beatrice. Beatrice is a hen who was rescued from a cage system by a staff member at The Humane League UK (THL UK). When she was first rehomed, she had lost most of her feathers due to the stresses of being in a cage, and it took some time to recover and regain confidence. Now, months on, she is happily living in Wiltshire with several other chickens, has regrown all her feathers, and is always first in line at feeding time.
Beatrice is the face of THL UK’s campaign to end cages. With her help, we are calling on the UK Government to introduce a legal ban on cages for hens by 2026.
With the help of our partners the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and the RSPCA, Beatrice’s Campaign has amassed the support of over 87,000 people. The campaign also reached Parliament, when Beatrice’s Bill was introduced earlier this year, led by Conservative MP Henry Smith.
The campaign has also been endorsed by celebrities Joanna Lumley, Bill Bailey, Martha Stewart and Joss Stone.
Why should the hospitality industry get behind a ban on cages for hens?
With such vast swathes of the industry making good progress on eradicating cages from their supply chains, it is important these changes are entrenched in law to avoid undercuts from competitors who are still sourcing from caged-systems. A ban on cages for hens in legislation would level the playing field.
Eggs from cage-free systems, and products such as mayonnaise made with cage-free ingredient eggs, are not only widely and easily available throughout the UK, they are also clearly labelled; making a more ethical and informed choice for your business a simpler and more straightforward process. In practical terms, when sourcing eggs and products containing eggs, make it clear to your supplier that these should only be from cage-free systems, with no exceptions.
The cage-free movement has also been gaining traction in Europe – the EU Citizens Initiative to End The Cage Age, led by Compassion in World Farming, hit a landmark back in June when the European Commission agreed to phase out the use of cages for all species. It seems sensible that, given the UK has led the way in the cage-free movement historically, we would replicate this success, starting with hens.
There is also increasing evidence that consumers are against the use of cages in farming. A 2020 poll by Compassion in World Farming showed that 88% of people think that using cages in farming is cruel to animals. Furthermore, an RSPCA survey from 2017 showed that 81% of the public believed post-Brexit animal welfare laws in the UK should be improved or at least kept at the same level. Cages are a subject that resonate with the public as inherently cruel.
If there is demonstrable food and hospitality industry support for a legislative ban on cages for hens, the Government will be more likely to push ahead with this initiative in a timely manner.
How can you help?
To lend your business’ support to Beatrice’s campaign to end cages, check out this toolkit which contains everything you need to get involved. It features a Statement of Support, signed by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, that you too can sign on to. Alternatively, you can reach out to THL UK’s Corporate Relations team directly at [email protected].
The Humane League UK is a charity that exists to end the abuse of animals raised for food. To find out more, visit www.thehumaneleague.org.uk