Australian agriculture ministers meet in Perth to discuss battery cage phase-out
The RSPCA says cage-egg advocates are deliberately attempting to scare the public with false claims of a rise in egg prices
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2020-21 data, 32% of layer hens in Australia are in cage systems, 19% in barn (indoor) systems, and 49% in free-range systems
A 2021 Kantar poll revealed that 77% of Australians support the phased-out abolishment of battery cages
Battery cages have long been criticised for confining animals and limiting natural behaviours
UPDATE State and territory agriculture ministers today endorsed the new national Poultry Standards and Guidelines which will see a phase-out of battery hen cages.
But while the meeting was a good step forward for animal welfare, the RSPCA is disappointed that no timeline for the phase out has been set.
RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell said a phase out of battery cages was long overdue and couldn’t come soon enough.
“These small, barren wire cages, where each hen has space that’s less than a piece of A4 paper, are a cruel and outdated farming system and simply have no place in modern Australia,” says Mussell.
“That’s why it’s good news to see positive steps on this issue today.
“But there needed to be clarity on the phase out date and exact implementation plans.
“(This is) to protect animal welfare, achieve consistency across jurisdictions, and give certainty to Australian producers.
“So while it’s good news that the standards have been endorsed, it’s disappointing that implementation timing is still being left up to states and territories.
“That means there’s no guarantee that battery cages will be gone by the recommended 2036 deadline.
“We look forward to state and territory governments, as soon as possible, making their intentions clear about how they will implement the standards into legislation, including how they will do so by – or ahead of – the phase out date of 2036.
“We commend those states and territories who have already made positive commitments on this issue and hope that all states and territories will do the same.
“Over 75% of OECD countries have already moved to phase out battery cages – it’s time that Australia joined them.
Mr Mussell also said today’s outcome was a sign of Australia’s broken approach to developing and implementing animal welfare standards.
“This process so far has taken nearly eight years, and countless layer hens have suffered because of these delays, which are still not entirely resolved.
“Australia must improve our approach to animal welfare standards and start being serious about how we achieve consistency across state and territory borders.”
Today’s update comes after the RSPCA reiterated its strong support for the long-overdue phase out of battery cages and cage eggs.
Ahead of today’s meeting however, the animal welfare organisation says a rise in disinformation from cage-egg advocates is being used to distract from the animal welfare concerns.
RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell says the “scaremongering” is disappointing, especially as it’s being used as a distraction from animal welfare.
“It’s very disappointing that after more than eight years of consultation, and when the majority of egg producers need certainty, some sections of the cage egg industry have resorted to this misguided attempt to distract, delay, or divert much-needed progress on these animal welfare standards,” said Mr Mussell.
“This includes some truly ridiculous claims, like the claim that the phase out date is ‘rapid’ and has been ‘brought forward’.
“This is blatantly untrue — the phase out deadline has always been 2036.
“2046 was the date proposed by the cage egg industry — a whopping 23 years from now and an unacceptably long timeframe.”
What are battery hens?
The RSPCA describes a battery cage as a small, barren wire cage; there are many thousands of cages stacked in sheds that may contain up to 100,000 birds.
The space given to each bird is less than the size of a piece of A4 paper.
Hens in battery cages can’t express normal behaviours, such as wing flapping, scratching the ground, dust bathing, perching, nesting, and foraging.
Studies have shown that hens suffer in battery cages.
Restricted movement, constantly standing on a wire floor, and a lack of perches lead to severe bone and muscle weakness.
For a hen to have a good life, she needs the freedom to move around, to stretch, flap her wings, perch and lay her eggs in a nest.
She can’t do any of these things in a barren battery cage.
Mr Mussell says there’s also been misleading claims that phasing out cage eggs will mean all producers need to switch to free-range systems.
“We know that battery cage producers can convert to a range of alternative systems, including barn-laid systems.”
With the country in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, Mussell says it is reprehensible that cage egg advocates are scaremongering the community about egg shortages and price rises.
“To try and pin this on a phase out of battery cages that’s not due to fully take effect for another 13 years or on supermarket commitments that were made, in some cases, as long as ten years ago — is misleading, bizarre, and extremely insensitive fearmongering toward Australian families currently struggling with the cost of living.
“We urge parliamentarians to carefully fact check any claims they’re presented with, and to ensure animal welfare policies and positions are based on facts and science, not scaremongering.”
“(This is) not just for the millions of layer hens suffering in barren battery cages, but also to enhance Australia’s international reputation by improving animal welfare standards.
“From our point of view, and from the point of view of the nearly eight in 10 Australians who want to see battery cages gone, the legislation to complete this phase out can’t come soon enough.
Mussell says more than 75% of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations have already committed to a phase out from battery cages.
“Australia now has the chance to join them, rather than continuing to lag behind the rest of the world.”
The RSPCA is Australia’s leading animal welfare organization and a highly trusted charity, actively advocates for the prevention of animal cruelty and promotes the care and protection of animals.
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