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Face Off: Dairy
Face Off: Pigs
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Frequently asked questions

Surely this type of farming can’t be legal?

Factory farming isn’t just legal; it is sanctioned and protected by our Government and the egg industry itself. Intensive farming operates on the principle of saving money by cutting corners and cramming as many animals into the smallest amount of space possible. This is how eggs are kept cheap.

Egg consumers have been duped into believing that life for laying hens has improved since the battery cage was made illegal across Europe in 2012. The newly-introduced enriched cage, which has replaced the battery cage in Britain, means hens continue to be confined, but now with up to 80 other cramped and frustrated hens. Hens are still packed into wire prisons – albeit prisons with a little more space. To be exact, it is around a postcard sized extra space per bird; still considerably less than needed for them to fully extend their wings.

Each visit by Viva! investigators at enriched cage units supplying millions of eggs to consumers each week have revealed gross conditions that cause similar welfare problems to those widely acknowledged to be present on battery cage units still in use around the world. Viva! has documented hens with extensive feather loss, dead adult and baby birds lying amongst live birds, evidence of beak mutilation, hens crammed into cages with no privacy or means of escape, air thick with dust, cage floors covered in faeces, birds who are sick and dying, barren cages, wire floors, and meagre ‘enrichment’ which is clearly making little, if any, improvement to the lives of incarcerated hens.

A minimum cage height of only 45cm can legally be provided. Hen continue to stand on excruciatingly uncomfortable and injurious sloping wire mesh floor. A so-called ‘nesting box’ is provided, along with perches and a litter area. These ‘enrichments’ provide little stimulation and may never be used by some of the birds due to competition from others in the cage. The flaws in the enriched cage system are highlighted by the fact that beak trimming continues to be carried out as routine on day old chicks. These mutilations involve handling stress, immediate and, in some cases, long lasting pain.

The enriched cage fails to cater for the hen's physical and behavioural needs on a staggering scale, and imposes gross restrictions on basic movements. It is widely condemned by scientists, experts, and Viva!, yet the British public remain blissfully unaware of the painful and frustrating reality for billions of hens housed on enriched cage farms. Free range egg production has decreased, whilst enriched cage egg production has increased. In 2014, fifty two per cent of eggs laid in Britain were from hens incarcerated in cages and, in 2015, there were still more caged hens than free range.

As has been revealed time and time again in undercover investigations that conditions on free range farms are dismal (see below).

I thought we had the best farmed animal welfare in the world?

That’s what they keeping telling us. Only problem is that it’s not actually true. Did you know that many other countries in Europe actually have higher farmed animal welfare than Britain?

In 1994, Sweden banned the battery cage, and Austria followed suit in in 2009. The country is set to ban the enriched cage by 2020. Belgium also banned the battery cage prior to the ban – and proposes to ban enriched cages by 2024. Germany has introduced a ‘family’ cage, which has more space than the enriched cage. Outside the EU, Switzerland has already banned both the battery and furnished cage systems. Yet right up to January 2012, it was reported that Five hundred thousand hens were still incarcerated in battery cages in Britain. Under current UK legislation, 80 birds can now be crammed into an enriched cage and, even on free range farms, there may be nine birds per square metre.

Beak trimming is already either prohibited, or does not generally take place, in several European countries such as Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. In the UK it is still carried out as routine on baby chicks.

In hatcheries, it is legal to throw male chicks onto conveyer belts and into gassing machines, yet countries such as Germany have promising to use research to eliminate this widespread killing. New technology looks set to determine the sex of each fertilised egg before the chick inside develops — enabling the removal of all male-identified eggs from the hatchery, and leaving only the female eggs to hatch. It is looking like Germany will lead the way into become the first country to end male chick killing by 2017.

However, just because countries have higher welfare that Britain we should not presume that there are not major problems in those systems. The answer is to not buy into cruelty, but to go kind.

Why not report these farms to the authorities?

We do, but rarely anything happens. We reported the findings of the Bird Bros farm investigation to the government’s Animal Health Office. We offered to send in photos and footage yet to date we have had no word from the authorities. Not even an acknowledgement. It is also worth considering that many of the worst factory farming practices are entirely legal.

Recently we wrote to government department DEFRA to ask them how many prosecutions there had been for farmed animal cruelty in the past 12 months in Britain? The answer came back that they had no idea. Which means that central government, who are the nation’s decision and law makers, have absolutely no idea if existing laws to protect farmed animals are working because they don’t collate or record that data. In reality, British farmed animals have practically no enforced legal protection and prosecutions are rare to non-existent.

The RSPCA announced recently that they were going to take a step back from their role as prosecutor in some animal cruelty cases. Whilst they have said that they may potentially step in if the authorities decline to prosecute farmed animal cases they will routinely pass cases to – you guessed it – those very authorities who very rarely prosecute.

Don’t assurance schemes ensure good welfare?

Bird Bros is accredited with the British Lion Scheme, like 85 per cent of UK eggs. A scheme was launched by the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) and means only that eggs are produced to minimum legal food safety requirements. In other words, the baby chicks are vaccinated against salmonella.

Assurance schemes like this are in practice a consumer confidence trick. They rarely offer anything above and beyond minimum legal guidelines – and sometimes they fail to do even that.

I hate factory farming. That’s why I only buy organic or free range. Surely that’s better?

Competing prices and high demand has led to egg prices falling and farmers housing huge flocks to yield a greater output of eggs and stocking density.

Many welfare labels can be misleading. Just because eggs are labelled free range or organic does not mean that the hen lived her whole life outside, or even some of it. On free range farms, farmers are required to provide ‘pop holes’ for the birds. This should, in theory, allow all to leave the shed. However the reality is that many birds will never step outside.

There are several reasons why a hen will not venture outside. Mainly it is due to the unnaturally large number of birds coexisting, and a failure to provide the conditions necessary to encourage them to utilise the outdoor space. Laying hens use an outside range more if it is of good quality, for example with presence of cover in the form of trees, bushes and hedges, yet even birds who do go outside onto the range often stay close to the shed because of the frequent lack of such cover.

This means that the vast majority of hens on farms spend most of their lives in vast, stinking, overcrowded sheds.

These sheds have been investigated by Viva! and other organisations. In 2010, Viva! exposed dire conditions for laying hens at two farms owned by Noble Foods - one of the UK’s largest free range egg companies supplying almost all of the major supermarket chains in Britain. Investigators filmed dozens of birds which had lost feathers after being pecked by other hens and a barn infested with red mite. In 2016, Noble Foods was again subject to an investigation and similar conditions were found on one of its Norfolk farms.

Other free range units visited by Viva! in 2015 have revealed birds inside dark, stinking, filthy sheds. The sheds bear a resemblance to those with enriched cages, and the hens, whilst uncaged, had comparable feather loss. Investigators documented hens who were extremely sick, and dead birds littered the filthy floor.

I love my eggs – they can’t be that bad for me?

Eggs have never been an essential part of the human diet but a mere addition. There is no recommended egg intake simply because we don’t need to consume any. Whilst they contain some nutrients, the health risks far outweigh any nutritional content.

Egg consumption has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, hormone-sensitive cancers and food poisoning. Eggs can also contain veterinary drug residues and environmental pollutants such as pesticides.

What about meat and dairy?

To find out more about the appalling life of pigs on factory farms, visit www.viva.org.uk/faceoff.

Other animals raised for meat in the UK hardly have it any better than pigs. Chickens are the most commonly killed animal for meat in Britain. Almost all are factory farmed; living on top of their own excreta, with many suffering from painful leg problems and burns from the ammonia soaked floor. They are slaughtered at just six weeks old. Eating chicken is also bad for us, with a medium-sized chicken contains almost a pint of fat73 per cent of British chickens are infected with campylobacter (a sometimes deadly bug that makes 280,000 Brits ill every year).

Most ducks are factory farmed and are cruelly denied water to swim in. They are killed at just seven weeks. A million lambs die on British farms each year because of hypothermiaThe seas are being emptied of fish and populations are crashing. Going vegan means you are part of the solution and no longer part of the problem.

Read more about the different species of animals consumed in the UK.

There’s a hidden cost to our consumption of dairy too. British dairy cows are kept in a cycle of near constant pregnancy and lactation (meaning huge stress, often leading to disease). They repeatedly have their babies taken away from them (so people can drink their milk). Around 100,000 male dairy calves are shot in the head a few days after birth as they can’t produce milk and are not profitable enough for beef. There are also the considerable health risks associated with consuming dairy to consider, such as increased risks of certain cancers, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

What can I do?

We can’t rely on Government, or increasingly poorly funded local authorities, to protect farmed animals. As consumers we need to take the matter into our own hands. If you want to prevent animal suffering, are concerned about climate change, want to avoid preventable diseases and secure a future for generations to come there is one easy step you can take – stop eating meat – and stick with it! The best way to do that is to go vegan – or at least take steps in that direction.

What can I eat instead?

Thankfully, it has never been easier to switch to a kinder vegan diet. There are vegan versions of sausages, bacon, pepperoni – you name it! Many of these are available at your local supermarket or health store. Check out Viva!’s handy L Plate Vegan for tasty alternatives. There are hundreds of recipes at www.veganrecipeclub.org.uk

OK, you’ve convinced me. How do I do it?

Viva! can offer all the free help you’ll ever need. Thousands of people have taken part in our 30 Day Vegan – where you can try living vegan for a month with recipes and tips on shopping, health and much more. Why not try it today? We also have a beautiful recipe book showing you how to cook kind (with all UK measurements). Also, why not check out places to eat vegan near you in our online directory My Vegan Town.

40 million laying hens are killed in the UK each year equates to:
3,333,333 per month
769,231 per week
109,589 per day
4,566 per hour
76 per minute

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