European companies promoting prohibited farming systems abroad

13 March 2015

Unacceptable farming methods are being openly promoted to Asian farmers by some European companies at an International trade show in Bangkok, despite use of these systems being prohibited in the EU.

Some of our staff attending the VIV Asia Expo in Thailand this week (11-13 March) were appalled to see widespread promotion by European companies of barren battery cages and broiler cages - a huge backward step for the welfare of chickens reared for eggs and meat.

The European Union (EU) is internationally recognised as a global leader on animal welfare in farming. EU regulations for the protection of farm animals do not allow for the use of barren battery cages for egg-laying hens, or cages for broiler chickens for meat production. Whilst it is still legal to sell such equipment, it is illegal to use it in the EU.

Our Campaign Manager, Rob Gregory, who attended VIV Expo, says, 

“It is both extremely disappointing and ethically questionable that companies which cannot promote these systems for use in EU countries are actively marketing them outside of the EU.

“There are very good reasons that the cages and systems they are promoting are not allowed in the EU.

"They compromise the welfare of animals, and have come under significant pressure from animal welfare experts, civil society and consumers, who see the advantages of higher welfare farming.

“The fact that the EU has prohibited these systems reflects the facts that animals are sentient beings and suffer if their needs are not met.”

Our Director for Humane and Sustainable Agriculture, Charlie Powell, says,

“We call upon European farming system manufacturers to apply European standards wherever they do business – pushing prohibited farming methods in the Asian region with less protective regulation is not acceptable.”

In the EU, barren battery cages for laying hens have been banned because of the suffering experienced by hens - and because they cannot express natural behaviours such as flapping their wings, dust bathing, scratching or laying their eggs in nests.

The vast majority of meat chickens globally are reared indoors in dense flocks, but birds reared in broiler cages are likely to experience even higher stocking densities and also have little opportunity for natural behaviour.

Some of the cages being promoted at VIV Expo are designed to hold up to 28 birds per m2 or around 57kg per m2. At this density, in the last week of life, the birds would be so overcrowded that they would barely be able to move — in some cases having even less space to move than a battery hen.

On a more positive note, a small number of European companies are starting to display higher welfare systems alongside their low welfare offerings at VIV Asia. These included an aviary system for laying hens, several Electronic Sow Feeding units for group housed pigs and one ‘free-farrowing’ system, also for pigs.

While there is still a long way to go, and much room for improvement before high welfare systems are the norm in Asia, this is a small, but positive step in the right direction. We hope that this trend continues and that we will see even more examples of higher welfare systems on display at the next Expo.

We work with the food industry to promote better systems, such as cage-free farming for laying hens, and higher welfare environments for broiler chickens. 

As more consumers choose to buy food based on how well farm animals are raised, we will hopefully see more demand for higher animal welfare systems around the world.

Learn more about our work to protect animals in farming.

Image: Intensively-farmed egg laying chickens in Colombia

“It is both extremely disappointing and ethically questionable that companies which cannot promote these systems for use in EU countries are actively marketing them outside of the EU."

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