European companies promoting prohibited farming systems abroad

Unacceptable farming methods are being openly promoted to Asian farmers by some EU companies at an International trade show in Bangkok this week (11-13 March), despite use of these systems being prohibited in the European Union (EU).

The EU is internationally recognised for its global lead on animal welfare in farming, and its 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. Although such equipment can be sold legally, its use is illegal in the EU.

Yet, World Animal Protection staff attending the VIV Asia Expo in Thailand were appalled to see the widespread promotion of barren battery cages and broiler cages, deeming this to be a huge backward step for the welfare of chickens reared for eggs and meat.

Rob Gregory, Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection 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 have the ability to suffer if their needs are not met.”

Charlie Powell, Director for Humane and Sustainable Agriculture at World Animal Protection 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, and because they cannot express natural behaviours such as flapping their wings, dust bathing, scratching or laying their eggs in nests.

While the vast majority of broiler chickens globally are reared indoors in dense flocks, 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.

In recent years, a number of leading food companies have begun to move away from the use of cages in farming, motivated by consumers’ concern for animal welfare and interest in the origin of their food. World Animal Protection works with the food industry to promote better systems, such as cage-free farming for laying hens, and higher welfare environments for broiler chickens.

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.

Kai Akram

International Media Officer

World Animal Protection

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Our vision is a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty has ended - together we can move the world for animals. We end the suffering of animals.We help the world see how important animals are to all of us.We inspire people to change animals' lives for the better.We put animals on the global agenda.