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News Section Icon Published 21/02/2023

Laying hens should be housed in cage-free systems, concludes a new study by the Union’s scientific body, the European Food Safety Authority, adding that meat chickens need more space and must come from slow-growing breeds only.

The scientific opinions

The scientists confirm that it is not possible to provide sufficient space in cages. They also note that when laying hens peck each other, they should be farmed in better conditions rather than have their beaks trimmed, as the latter is associated with soft tissue damage and thus negatively impacts their welfare. 

With regards to meat chickens, they recommend increasing the minimum space threefold to prevent restriction of movement. They also state that only slow-growing breeds should be used in farming to avoid negative consequences for their health and welfare.

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Irrefutable evidence

“For many years, industry lobbyists have been claiming that factory farming is beneficial for the welfare of farmed animals but today’s Opinions by the EU scientific body proves them wrong," said Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU.

"We are pleased to see that EFSA has confirmed that caging farmed animals is detrimental for their welfare, and that we need to reduce the stocking density of meat chickens, prevent mutilations and use slow-growing breeds. The EU must adopt new science-based laws for all farmed animals to rectify the outdated and weak provisions in the legislation currently in force. Today’s Scientific Opinions offer irrefutable evidence, discrediting industry and ministers’ efforts to delay or prevent the long-awaited comprehensive revision of the EU’s animal welfare laws.” she concluded.

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The state of play

Around 180 million hens are now kept in so-called ‘enriched’ cages across the EU. These were designed to meet a range of the hen’s behavioural needs, but confinement still severely limits natural behaviour and caged hens do not experience a life worth living. Cages for laying hens are, or soon will be, phased out in Austria, Czechia, Germany, Luxembourg and Slovakia, the Wallonia region of Belgium and France has banned new or retrofitted enriched cage systems. The European Commission has committed to end the use of cages in animal farming, in response to the End the Cage Age campaign supported by 1.4 million Europeans, which Compassion in World Farming coordinated.

Chickens farmed for meat have been bred to grow bigger and faster. Chickens can live for six or more years under natural conditions. However, those used in intensive farming will commonly be slaughtered before they reach six weeks old. In intensive chicken farms their welfare is seriously compromised by overcrowding in filthy conditions and barren environments.

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