Animal law in the spotlight: NSW battery hen bill

Yesterday, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Fowl Keeping) Bill 2014 (the Bill) was introduced into the NSW Legislative Council by Greens animal welfare spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi.

The Bill comes one week after Dr Faruqi introduced similar legislation to ban the use of sow stalls in NSW, and proposes to prohibit the caging of layer hens, as well as the routine practice of debeaking chickens.

If the Bill is passed, NSW will be only the second state or territory in Australia after the ACT to legally prohibit both the use of cages for commercial egg production and the debeaking of chickens.

Why ban battery cages and debeaking of chickens?

Battery cages

Battery cages are used on factory farms to confine egg-laying hens. In these cages, hens are packed together1 giving them little opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours like preening, foraging and nesting.2 Battery cages cause severe physical and psychological distress to hens, including chronic pain from constantly standing on sloped wire floors.3

Debeaking

When confined to a cage, hens may become so frustrated that they resort to pecking or bullying their cage mates.4 Debeaking is therefore routinely used by egg producers to limit the damage that hens can cause to one another. The procedure involves severing a portion of the beak with an electrically heated blade. Despite the procedure resulting in acute pain and nerve injury,5 pain relief is not a requirement in NSW, or any other state that practices debeaking. It is important to note that debeaking may be practiced in certain “free range” certification systems.

More details about the animal welfare issues associated with battery hens and debeaking can be found on our Issues Page.

Growing consumer support for free range

There is widespread public opposition to the cruelty of battery cages and debeaking. A national survey indicated that 86% of Australians believe that battery cages are cruel,6 and public preference for cage-free eggs is increasing, with consumption of cage-free eggs now estimated to represent 38% of the retail market,7 a jump from 14.5% in 2005.8

What the Bill will do

This Bill amends the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) (POCTA Act) by incorporating a new section 8B, which makes it an offence to keep layer hens in a battery cage. A maximum penalty is proposed of $27,500 for a body corporate and $5,500 and/or imprisonment for six months for an individual.

New sub-section 12(1)(g) also amends the list of procedures which are not permitted to be performed on animals by including: “the removal or trimming of the beak of a fowl”. The amendment will make debeaking an offence under the POCTA Act unless it can be shown under new sub-section 12(2A) that the removal or trimming was performed by a “veterinary practitioner for a therapeutic purpose”.

As with the NSW Greens’ proposed sow stall prohibition bill, this Bill will only take effect from 1 January 2018, giving egg producers in NSW three years to transition towards cage-free production systems.

Potential implications for animal welfare

A number of jurisdictions around the world have already recognised the cruelty of battery cages and debeaking and taken steps to phase out or ban these practices.

The European Union (EU) banned battery cages on 1 January 2012 after legislating for a 13 year phase out.9 Likewise, the US states of California and Michigan decided to ban battery cages by 201510 and 2019,11 respectively.

Australia is evidently lagging behind these jurisdictions in its welfare standards for poultry.

Now is the time to have your say and bring about an end to battery cages and debeaking.

Use the following email template to contact Katrina Hodgkinson MP, the NSW Minister for Primary Industries at [email protected] with the following letter: 

Subject: I support a ban on battery cages and debeaking in NSW

Dear the Hon. Katrina Hodgkinson MP

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Fowl Keeping) Bill 2014 (the Bill) has been introduced into State Parliament.

This is an excellent opportunity for NSW to follow international precedent and ban the use of battery cages and the cruel practice of debeaking.

Battery cages cause emotional and psychological distress in chickens, and debeaking is known to cause both immediate and long-lasting pain. These sentient creatures deserve better.

I urge you to commit your government to vote in favour of this Bill, given the significant ramifications it will have for animal welfare standards in NSW.

Thank you,

[Insert your name]