Voiceless report to Unscramble the facts of Australian egg farming


Voiceless, the animal protection institute, has launched its latest in-depth report, Unscrambled: The hidden truth of hen welfare in the Australian egg industry, in an effort to bring much-needed attention to the welfare of millions of hens and their chicks in Australia.

The product of two years of extensive research and legal review, Unscrambled assesses the key animal protection issues associated with the use of battery cages, barn-laid and free range systems from an animal welfare and scientific perspective.

The Report, which has been reviewed by seven leading animal welfare and law experts, and endorsed by major animal protection organisations including Animals Australia, Mercy for Animals (US) and Compassion in World Farming (UK), explores the current status of hen welfare in Australia and how we compare globally. 

“The stark reality is, Australia has fallen behind other nations when it comes to layer hen welfare, so the time has come for us to evolve to better standards,” said Elise Burgess, Voiceless spokesperson.  

Alarmingly, there are approximately 11 million hens confined in battery cage systems across Australia, who are permanently locked in a cage with less allowable space than that of an A4 page.

Battery cages have been banned, or are being phased out, in a number of global markets due to the severe welfare issues inherent in their use, including most member states of the European Union, New Zealand and Switzerland. 

Encouragingly, Unscrambled comes at a time when there is real opportunity for significant advancement of animal welfare in the Australian egg industry, specifically ending the use of battery cages. 

For the first time in 15 years, the Poultry Code is under review.

“This Code is so important because it sets out the minimum welfare standards for the treatment of all poultry in Australia, and currently it permits some of the cruellest practices in commercial egg production, such as the use of battery cages and the routine slaughter of surplus male chicks,” said Burgess.

The review process, however, has proved to be disappointing so far, with concerns raised by RSPCA Australia that the Draft Poultry Standards & Guidelines will fail to address core welfare concerns.

“The Draft could simply reinforce existing and outdated industry practices, ignoring changing community expectations, independent animal welfare science, and international best practices that demand higher welfare standards for birds used in the egg industry,” said Burgess.

Unscrambled takes a closer look at how policy can affect the welfare of over 25 million hens, plus millions of male chicks, who are used by the Australian egg industry every year. 

Specifically, this Report reviews:

  • Welfare concerns of battery cages;
  • Failure of current government regulations;
  • International standards, and progress in Australia;
  • Comparison of egg farming: battery cage, barn-laid and free range; and
  • Inherent cruelties in egg farming across all production systems – cage, barn-laid and free range. See the Infographic.

“While policy change is necessary in 2017, real change relies on co-operation between producers, advocates, consumers and government, to not simply accept the status quo but have the courage to recognise that change is urgently needed,” said Burgess.  

“This Report provides a greater insight into hen suffering, and will hopefully promote a wide-ranging and informed public debate about what sort of egg industry the people of Australia want and how we can achieve it.”

The Report has been reviewed by six leading animal welfare experts from Voiceless’ Scientific Expert Advisory Council, and Legal Advisory Council member, Dr Sophie Riley, senior lecturer at UTS Faculty of Law.

This Report is endorsed by the following major animal protection organisations: