Do you want to eat eggs from a sad and ill hen? Do you want to be one of the reasons for the ill health of hens on egg farms? If your answer is no, this study will shock you. Animal Equality, a Pune-based animal protection organisation, found four to eight hens crammed in a cage no bigger than two A4 size sheets of paper. Hens stepping on each other in their attempts to find space to move often hurts them, and they are left with sores, cracked and deformed feet.
The study was a part of the organisation’s ongoing mission to demand stricter animal welfare laws for the food processing industry (that depends on animals for extraction of food items). This study was conducted online during February 2019 at Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana egg farms. These four states are known for a higher yield of egg in the economy.
And because these hens are crammed in tiny cages, stacked one atop the other in rows, they cause urine and feces to fall onto birds in lower cages. Thus, skin abrasions and missing feathers are another side effect that traumatise the birds. Heaps of litter collected underneath the cages are disposed of every few weeks; this pushes up mortality rates among the hens, and the eggs become harmful for consumption. Last, little to no veterinary care leaves them to a slow agonising death.
This is the second study on egg farms in India by Animal Equality, the first one being in 2017. Amrut Ubale, executive director of Animal Equality says, “We exposed the cruel and illegal practices on egg farms and reported the findings to the government along with a list of recommendations to reduce the suffering of hens. Some of the recommendations were included in the Law Commission’s proposed rules for the welfare of hens. We have also submitted a study on how farmers can transition from a cage to cage-free housing system and the transition from existing infrastructure costs Rs 50-60 per bird. In Europe, where battery cages are banned and cage free systems are heavily used, farmers are already witnessing their capital expenses come in line with conventional housing systems in a few months of transition.”
Ubale adds, “We also work with food companies and egg producers and request them to move away from cages. Many food companies have started sourcing eggs from cage-free farms. Some egg producers have also started expanding their cage-free facilities, proving that this initiative is here to stay. Now we only hope the government also supports this initiative by phasing out cages altogether.”
She explains that the use of any sized cage in essence violates Five Freedoms, as they disable animals to express natural behaviour and make them uncomfortable, fearful and distressed, and more susceptible to diseases. The Supreme Court in its order dated May 7, 2014, embedded Five Freedoms in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, thereby making it mandatory.
Statistics from the Indian government show that 80% of eggs in India are produced by hens from caged farms and only 20% eggs come from the backyard farms run by farmers who mainly have a free-range model by default. Regions and countries across the world are banning cages. It only makes sense for India to do so too, as the traditional way of farming used cage-free systems.
Animal Equality has also requested the government to introduce in ovo gender determination technology to avoid the brutal slaughter of a large number of unwanted male chicks, the implementation of a ban on forced moulting and the formation of a committee to monitor the welfare of birds at the district level.
Ubale also noted that the European Union has banned importing eggs from India as it has shifted to free-range eggs completely by law.
She also depicts the gross scene of workers and their children on cage style farms, even living around these, causing contractible respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Animal Equality’s study–India’s Perception Towards Animal Welfare in association with Ipsos Public Affairs across 11 cities in India revealed that 88% respondents felt humans are the reason for torture of animals to meet their food demands. And 86% percent of 1002 respondents agreed that animals should not be tortured, with 7% were even willing to pay more to adopt cruelty-free food from animals.