Enriched cages do not provide a “life worth living” for laying hens

Wednesday, June 26, 2019
The Poultry Site

It’s often said that UK farming has the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and yet animal welfare is the top concern amongst many UK shoppers. If British legislation on farm animal welfare is considered world class, why are citizens concerned? Do assurance schemes guarantee that animal welfare principles are implemented on farms?

As it stands today, the ability to perform normal behaviours is considered a luxury for farm animals, featuring only in systems certified by premium schemes. Is this in line with our understanding of animal welfare science, and emerging citizen expectations?

FAI’s veterinary consultant Laura Higham recently presented at the 12th Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-being in Prague and made the case for phasing-out all confinement systems in laying hen production to enable species-specific behavioural opportunities as a necessity, not a luxury.

The term “consumer” is a very familiar word in food business. It described shoppers as people with similar behaviours and drivers in their selection of supermarket produce; primarily interested in product consistency and price points.

But things are changing through a growing contingent of conscientious consumers, or “citizens,” who wish to create a more positive society by utilising their spending power to drive ethical food supply chains.

As citizens, we don’t just want choice, we want roles in the reinvention and reshaping of our food system, and we are increasingly interested in the animal welfare standards behind the meat, milk and egg products that we buy.

Animal welfare is an increasingly important factor in purchasing decisions by citizens globally. According to surveys, around 70 percent of respondents in the UK, USA and Australia are concerned about farm animal welfare.

We can see from results of surveys by the Ethical Consumer and The Grocer (see Figures 1 and 2) that there is robust growth in ethical markets and that animal welfare is the top concern amongst many UK shoppers. Another survey suggested that 72 percent of respondents in China considered farm animal welfare important, with 75 percent willing to pay more for higher welfare pork. This “citizen shift” is translating into purchasing decisions, evidenced by the cage-free egg movement seen in many countries across the world, and an increase in the trend for less-but-better flexitarian diets.

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