Caging of Farm Animals | May 2019

I have received a substantial number of emails regarding the caging of farm animals.

The Government is committed to upholding and improving animal welfare, with the welfare of farmed livestock protected under legislation. Such welfare is guaranteed by specific welfare codes, which encourage high standards of husbandry that keepers are required to be familiar with by law. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have their own Animal and Plant Health Agency inspectors who, with the help of local authorities, conduct regular inspections on farms to check that animal welfare standards are being upheld.
It should be noted that the UK has already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. For example, while the keeping of sows in close confinement stalls was banned in 1999, it was not until 2013 that a partial ban on sow stalls was introduced across the rest of the EU. In this regard, the UK can be considered a world leader in upholding animal welfare standards. Whatever the system of production, the most important factor in determining animal welfare is good stockmanship and the correct application of husbandry standards. This reflects the advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee.
Since the 2012 EU ban on the use of battery cages for laying hens, hens are kept in either free range, enriched cages, barn or organic systems. It should be stressed that over half of UK egg production is now free range, being higher than any other country in the EU. Meanwhile, enriched cages provide more space for birds to move around than conventional cages and are legally required to provide nest boxes, litter, perches, and claw shortening devices which allow the birds to carry out a greater range of natural behaviours. Equally, pullets that are housed in an enriched cage system as adults are now required to be reared in enriched cages, in order to ensure that the two environments are matched as far as possible to reduce stress and the likelihood of injurious pecking. It should also be noted that the use of cages to house both layer breeders and broiler (meat chicken) breeders is illegal under the UK’s farm assurance scheme standards.
With regard to other farmed animals, any industry which produces rabbits commercially for meat has to use free range systems, and cannot use cages. Equally, the statutory welfare code for gamebirds states that barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used. Guinea fowl are also not kept in cages.
It should come as no surprise that the UK is ahead of most other EU pig producing countries in terms of non-confinement farrowing, with approximately 60% of UK sows in farrowing crates to give birth, and the remaining 40% housed outside and free farrowed (crate-free). Research is on-going to develop and test indoor free farrowing systems under commercial conditions which protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. Equally, the UK unilaterally banned the keeping of calves in veal crates in 1990, sixteen years before the rest of the EU. However, as young calves are highly susceptible to disease, up to 8 weeks of age, they are permitted to be kept in individual hutches for up to 8 weeks of age; however, such hutches are required to be a specified size and have bedding provided.
The Government is committed to maintaining its high regulatory framework and will continue to improve such standards as new research and evidence emerges regarding animal welfare. It should also be mentioned that the UK’s regulatory system will continue to offer at least the same level of assurance of animal welfare following our departure from the European Union.
May 2019

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