The Fall 2011 issue of ASPCA Action describes a July agreement between United Egg Producers (UEP), representing the owners of 80% of the US laying hen population, and animal welfare groups, in which the UEP pledged to support (yet-to-be introduced) legislation phasing-out of battery cages for hens.
A battery cage, according to the ASPCA Farm Animal Cruelty glossary, is:
A wire cage, measuring no more than 16 inches wide, in which four or five hens are housed. These cages are lined up in rows and stacked several levels high on factory farms. This system of production has been outlawed by countries in the European Union.
Hens in these cages are so cramped that they can’t extend their wings, and the discomfort can lead them to attempt stress relief by fighting. Factory farmers often use debeaking to curb the damage done by these miserable birds. Again, from the ASPCA glossary:
Debeaking [is] a process that involves cutting through bone, cartilage and soft tissue with a blade to remove the top half and the bottom third of a chicken’s, turkey’s or duck’s beak. This measure is taken to reduce the excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen among stressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms.
Let’s hope the ASPCA and other farm animal welfare groups can push Congress to enact legislation quickly to improve conditions for laying hens and other factory farm animals.