Researchers at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on Tuesday recommended ending the use of cages to farm broiler chickens and laying hens to improve their well-being.
The European Commission requested two studies to provide a scientific basis to support efforts to improve animal welfare and make food production environmentally friendly and food healthier.
Good animal welfare practices promote animal well-being and health, which is a crucial element for food chain safety, the EFSA said. Animal welfare and health prevent foodborne diseases in humans.
The scientific studies were conducted on the welfare of laying hens -chickens used to lay eggs for human consumption- and broiler chickens -animals who are killed at six weeks old for the meat industry.
To improve the welfare of chickens, EFSA’s scientists recommended avoiding using cages, not mutilating chickens and giving the animals enough space to move around easily, dust bathe, explore and escape from each other when they want to.
Chickens in commercial farming systems are usually raised in large groups in indoor facilities, which can be overcrowded and stressful for the birds.
Some common welfare issues reported in commercial chicken farming include using small cages or overcrowded conditions that limit the chickens’ ability to move and engage in natural behaviours, lack of access to natural light and fresh air, poor sanitation, and the use of growth-promoting antibiotics.
In 2021, the European Commission announced it would propose legislation in 2023 to phase out and ban cages in animal farming by 2027 after 1.4 EU citizens supported the End the Cage Age European Citizens’ Initiative.
“Animals are sentient beings, and we have a moral, societal responsibility to ensure that on-farm conditions for animals reflect this,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said.
Every year, over 300 million chickens, pigs, rabbits, ducks, geese, and other animals are imprisoned in cages across the EU.