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Independent, nationally and world-renowned academic and professional experts in bird welfare and veterinary medicine reviewed the video footage from MFA's undercover investigation of Sparboe Egg Farms. Below are some of their statements:
Holly Cheever, DVM
Dr. Cheever is a veterinary practitioner who graduated from Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Cheever has treated chickens as part of her professional practice, as well as maintained her own home flock, for 25 years. She assists local and state law enforcement officers in the investigation and prosecution of animal abuse, and instructs them three times annually in the proper implementation of New York State's anti-cruelty laws. Dr. Cheever states:
This video footage shows the distressing but typical treatment of chickens raised in battery cages for the purpose of egg production … The battery cages show the typical overcrowding of live animals in containers that prevent them from adopting any natural postures-they may not stretch their wings nor lie down in a normal position, meaning that they suffer from intense discomfort for their entire lives.
The debeaking section shows the brutal searing off of the beak tips (up to one quarter/one third of the beak), which is a highly innervated portion of the avian body and thus is intensely painful.
This footage shows corpses-unrecognizable as chickens-being pulled from cages containing live birds that are so desiccated and trampled that they have clearly been left among the living for an extended period.
Lee Schrader, DVM
Dr. Schrader is a practicing veterinarian, who obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Schrader has over 35 years of experience working with animals, particularly animals with serious, difficult-to-diagnose disorders. She performs post-mortem examinations on animal victims of abuse and neglect, as well as provides expert testimony in such cases. Dr. Schrader states:
In my opinion, the treatment of the birds at this facility is unconscionable. The unnecessary violence, unskilled killing, and especially the extreme confinement and deprivation of the most minimal and basic needs of the hens cannot be allowed to continue.
Battery cage confinement of laying hens is nothing short of torture. The most essential instincts of the birds are frustrated by the intense confinement, which does not even allow the birds to spread their wings or sit comfortably, and prevents their innate desire to peck, dust-bathe, or roost. The scientific evidence clearly shows that hens so confined suffer acute and chronic pain and distress. The hens are also unable to build nests, which is a very intense natural instinct in these animals as a prelude to egg-laying.
Armaiti May, DVM, CVA
Dr. May, a practicing veterinarian with experience treating farmed animals, received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She is experienced treating livestock and an expert at recognizing the signs of pain and distress in farmed animals. Dr. May states:
[T]he facility where this footage was taken shows blatant disregard for the basic welfare of animals in its practices as well as lack of appropriate hygiene, analgesics, and veterinary care for the animals.
Egg-laying hens are seen crammed tightly into cages stacked on top of one another with no space to comfortably turn around or spread their wings without flapping up against other frightened birds. It is unnatural to keep birds in such extreme confinement which prohibits them from engaging in behaviors natural to their species, such as spreading their wings, dust-bathing, nesting, and perching behaviors.
Stiff, decomposing carcasses, some of them covered with fecal matter, are removed from cages with live birds. The degree of decay and rigidity of the corpses indicates that dead birds have remained in cages with live birds for a long time, possibly a week or more. This shows that there is inadequate monitoring and veterinary care for these birds since sick and injured birds are neglected and allowed to slowly suffer to death.
Several workers are seen breaking the necks of fully conscious birds and then tossing their bodies aside while they are still alive … Another worker is seen crushing a chick to death by pressing her neck onto the metal cage surface. In yet another segment, plastic bags are seen full of live chicks left to suffocate … Suffocation, slamming and crushing are unacceptable ways to euthanize any animal.
Debra Teachout, DVM, MVSc
Dr. Teachout is a practicing veterinarian, who graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. She also holds an advanced degree in veterinary clinical pathology from Western College of Veterinary Medicine and has completed additional coursework in farmed-animal welfare. Dr. Teachout states:
In this egg laying hen facility the well-being of the birds is obviously not promoted or even cared about. Birds are treated as inanimate objects, and they are overtly abused. Attempts at killing are sloppy, incomplete, inhumane and could never be considered euthanasia. Injured and sick birds appear to be denied veterinary care, which is a basic necessity of life for any animal.
The over-all welfare of the young chickens and hens in this facility is extremely poor. There is gross negligence in humane treatment as well as hygiene and sanitation. The conditions are unsafe for the birds both physical health and mental well-being.
Management has allowed a culture of abuse and carelessness to flourish.
Jean Hofve, DVM
Dr. Hofve received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Colorado State University in 1994. Her veterinary practice includes farmed animals, particularly in recent years the breed of hens used for egg production. Dr. Hofve states:
Overall, the conditions and treatment of these chickens appear to be about average for the industry; keeping in mind that thoughtless, institutionalized cruelty is deeply ingrained in such facilities … Commercial egg production is an inherently cruel and careless industry.
Battery cage systems have a large economic advantage for the producer; however, hen welfare is extremely poor … typical for battery housing, these animals are suffering intensely from concentrated ammonia fumes, which can seriously burn their eyes and respiratory tracts. To force animals to live in such an environment 24/7 for their entire productive lives is unimaginably cruel.
In my opinion, debeaking is cruel and unnecessary … The equipment removes the beak with a hot blade. Steam from the burned tissue is seen to be issuing from the cut. Heat cauterizes the wound and prevents bleeding by burning it, but it does not prevent pain, which may be severe and persistent.
[T]he workers doing the debeaking casually throw the birds to the side … These young birds – terrified and in tremendous pain – could be further injured, potentially seriously, due to this careless handling.
Sara Shields, PhD
Sara Shields holds a doctoral degree in Animal Behavior from the University of California, Davis and has extensive experience as a research scientist, teacher, and consultant in animal welfare, with an emphasis on the well being of poultry. Dr. Shields states:
The effects of battery cages on the health and welfare of hens have been studied extensively over several decades by veterinarians and ethologists (scientists specializing in the study of animal behavior) … Hens in these cages cannot engage in the extensive natural behavior that is essential to their welfare, such as foraging, nesting, dustbathing, perching, scratching, short-distance flying, fully stretching their wings or even walking more than a few steps. While hens can be kept alive in battery cages, their quality of life is inherently poor, and the scientific evidence is very clear that battery cages cause distress and suffering …
Battery cage operations are inherently cruel. The barren, restrictive environment offers no hope for an acceptable quality of life, and such severely overcrowded confinement would be unthinkable for any other farmed species. World-wide, there is increasing recognition that battery cages are simply not appropriate housing.
Temple Grandin, PhD, PAS
Dr. Grandin is considered the world's leading expert on farmed-animal welfare. She is an associate professor of livestock behavior at Colorado State University and an animal welfare advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the meat industry. Dr. Grandin states:
The most serious problem I observed was horseplay with chickens. Swinging a chicken around on a string is cruelty to animals. Stuffing a hen in a pocket would be stressful.
In addition to the above experienced veterinarians and welfare experts, numerous world-renowned organizations and respected animal science professionals have also condemned the use of barren battery cages for egg-laying hens.
Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production
After a comprehensive two-year study, the independent Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health chaired by former Kansas Governor John Carlin and including former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, concluded that battery cages should be phased out:
After reviewing the literature, visiting production facilities, and listening to producers themselves, the Commission believes that the most intensive confinement systems, such as restrictive veal crates, hog gestation pens, restrictive farrowing crates, and battery cages for poultry, all prevent the animal from a normal range of movement and constitute inhumane treatment.i
European Commission's Scientific Veterinary Committee
A report on the welfare of laying hens, published by the European Commission, Scientific Veterinary Committee, Animal Welfare Section, states:
Battery cage systems provide a barren environment for the birds … It is clear that because of its small size and its barrenness, the battery cage as used at present has inherent severe disadvantages for the welfare of hens.ii
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD
Dr. Rollin is a distinguished professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and is well known internationally for his over 30 years of work in animal welfare. He was a major architect of federal laws protecting laboratory animals, and has written two books on farmed-animal welfare. He serves on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and is an expert witness on animal welfare issues in the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Rollin states:
Virtually all aspects of hen behavior are thwarted by battery cages: social behavior, nesting behavior, the ability to move and flap wings, dustbathing, space requirements, scratching for food, exercise, pecking at objects on the ground … The most obvious problem is lack of exercise and natural movement … Comfort behavior is likewise truncated, as is leg stretching and preening. Research has confirmed what common sense already knew – animals built to move must move.iii
Wire floors inhibit the ability of hens to dustbathe and to scratch and also violate their known preference for litter before and during oviposition. Wire can also be responsible for soring and injury of feet and legs.iv
Battery cages are responsible for a variety of injuries, as birds are sometimes trapped in cages by the head and neck, body and wings, toes and claws, or other areas. In addition, steep floors can cause foot deformities, and wire mesh can lead to feather wear.v
Michael Appleby, PhD
Dr. Appleby, poultry scientist and member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, an independent advisory body established by the U.K. government, states:
I find battery production to be one of the most inhumane practices in factory farming and have argued strongly for reform in the egg industry, both as an animal science professor and humane advocate, for many years. Battery cages present inherent animal welfare problems, most notably by their small size and barren conditions. Hens are unable to engage in many of their natural behaviors and endure high levels of stress and frustration.vi
Lesley J. Rogers, PhD
Regarding battery cages, Dr. Rogers, professor of zoology at the University of New England, Australia, writes:
In no way can these living conditions meet the demands of a complex nervous system designed to form a multitude of memories and make complex decisions.vii
With increased knowledge of the behaviour and cognitive abilities of the chicken, has come the realization that the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source.viii
Ian Duncan, PhD
Dr. Duncan is a world-renowned expert in poultry science, having earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with Honours in Animal Husbandry from Edinburgh University and a doctorate at the Poultry Research Centre with a dissertation on frustration and conflict in domestic fowl. He is professor of applied ethology in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Guelph and also holds the oldest university chair in animal welfare in North America. Dr. Duncan writes:
Hens in battery cages are prevented from performing several natural behaviour patterns. ... The biggest source of frustration is undoubtedly the lack of nesting opportunity.ix
[T]he difficulty of inspecting cages means that the welfare of the birds is at some risk.x
The lack of space in battery cages reduces welfare by preventing hens from adopting certain postures such as an erect posture with the head raised and performing particular behaviors such as wing flapping.xi
Battery cages for laying hens have been shown (by me and others) to cause extreme frustration particularly when the hen wants to lay an egg. Battery cages are being phased out in Europe and other more humane husbandry systems are being developed.xii
There is now good morphological, neurophysical, and behavioral evidence that beak trimming leads to both chronic and acute pain.xiii
[Beak trimming] has been shown (by me and by others) to cause both acute and chronic pain and should not be allowed to be carried out routinely. It has been banned in some European countries and they have shown that it is possible to keep hens without de-beaking them.xiv
Michael Baxter, PhD
Dr. Baxter is formerly with the Agricultural Engineering Unit, Scottish Agricultural College. Dr. Baxter states:
The space available in a battery cage does not allow hens even to stand still in the way they would in a more spacious environment. Some behaviours are completely inhibited by confinement in a cage causing a progressive accumulation of motivation to perform the behaviours.xv
When crowded together this regulatory system breaks down and the hens appear to be in a chronic state of social stress, perpetually trying to get away from their cagemates, not able to express dominance relations by means of spacing and not even able to resolve social conflict by means of aggression.xvi
[T]he frustration of nesting motivation is likely to cause significant suffering to the hen during the prelaying period every day.svii
Joy Mench, PhD
Dr. Mench earned her PhD in Ethology and Neurobiology from the University of Sussex. She is a professor of animal science at the University of California, Davis, and conducts behavioral research on poultry directed toward improving aspects of their housing, handling, and management. Dr. Mench writes:
Battery cages provide an inadequate environment for nesting, lacking both sites which fit these criteria [concealment and separation from other birds] as well as substrates for nest-building. Hens housed in battery cages display agitated pacing and escape behaviors which last for 2 to 4 hours prior to oviposition.xviii
A different decision about the minimum recommendation [by the United Egg Producers for allotment of space per hen in battery cages] would have been reached had the committee given more weight to the information from the preference testing and use of space studies, since these indicate that hens need and want more space than 72 square inches.xix
John Webster is emeritus professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science. A founding member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, Dr. Webster states:
There is good evidence that laying hens experience frustration in the barren cage; most especially, the frustration associated with their inability to select a suitable nesting site prior to laying their daily egg.xx
[T]he unenriched battery cage simply does not meet the physiological and behavioural requirements of the laying hen.xxi
Extreme confinement in barren wire cages ... predisposes to external injuries to feet and feathers, and exacerbates the development of osteoporosis, leading to bone fractures and chronic pain.xxii
Konrad Lorenz, MD, PhD
Dr. Lorenz is a Nobel Prize-winning zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist (a scientist specializing in the study of birds). He writes:
The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act. For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow-cage mates to search there in vain for cover.xxiii
i Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. 2008. Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.