IN THE NEWS: Poultry farms should adopt cage-free systems, report says

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IN THE NEWS: On SEP 7, 2017

Animal welfare activists have long been speaking about the cruel practices involved in poultry farming, especially the use of battery cages.

A few months ago, the Law Commission of India in its 269th report, 'Transportation and House-keeping of Egg-laying hens (layers) and Broiler Chickens', also stressed on the need to put an end to the cruel practice of confining birds in these small cages. And now, a recently released report by NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) highlights the same issue and the need for poultry farms to have cage-free systems.

The NEERI report, 'Environmental Status of Some Poultry Farms in India,' was released a few days ago.

"The study was conducted by NEERI with the help of the Haryana Pollution Control Board. There is very little regulation with regard to poultry farming in India, which is why even the Law Commission had begun to look into the matter," says N G Jayasimha, managing director, Humane Society International/India (HSI).

The NEERI team visited caged farms in Sonipat and Karnal districts and a cage-free farm in Gurgaon district to understand poultry farm practices. They also did an assessment of environmental status at poultry farms and heavy metal analysis in feed grains and excreta slurry.

Based on observations made during visits to closed-cage and cage-free poultry farming system in Haryana, the report concluded that the condition of closed-cage poultry farms is very poor and cruel for hens when compared to cage-free poultry system.

Odour generation and mites in the farms are two major problems in closed-caged system, which is not observed in the cage-free system. The cage-free system provides enough space for movement of hens and the kind of environment required to express their natural behaviour, says the report.

It also says poultry owners and consumers should understand that the animals raised for food too deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty.

The report has made some recommendations for better poultry practices: apart from maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in the sheds, layered battery-cage systems should be replaced with cage-free housing in a phase-wise manner.

The cage-free housing must be such that it allows the birds to stand up straight, stretch their wings fully and provide reasonable opportunity of movement.

According to the report, The Law Commission of India, vide Report No. 269, titled "Transportation and House-keeping of Egg Laying Hens (Layers) and Broiler Chickens" specified certain space allocations. The space allocations recommended are suitable.

The report says viable alternatives to battery cages, which can be adapted to commercial production, have also been identified, including aviary systems, with multiple tiers and a higher stocking density than floor-systems where perches are located on the elevated tiers, hens may preferentially roost higher off the ground. And also free-range systems, in which hens are housed in a single-tiered barn or multi-tiered aviary and even provided with outdoor access.

The report recommended that to encourage the existing poultry farm owners to make changes in the present caged-system, suitable rebate in tax or subsidies may be given to the poultry farms who adopt such systems. All new poultry farm should also follow cage-free system from the beginning.

"Till now animal welfare activists have been campaigning against battery cages but the Law Commission, looking at the issue from a purely legal point of view, and the NEERI team, looking at it from a scientific point of view, have come to the same conclusion," says Jayasimha.

The report says heavy spider webs, house-fly infestation, undisposed manure, odour from manure in the sheds and godowns of visited poultry farms indicate poor hygiene and may attract mites, lices and parasites causing parasitic health disorders like intestinal and skin infections.

Sudden outbreak of bacterial, viral, fungal and communicable diseases like Avian Influenza, Pox, Pasteurella, Coryza, Aspergillosis becomes inevitable. Hygienic practices like regular cleaning of manure and storage in closed/ sealed condition with proper disposal should be adopted by each farm owner.

It also recommended that certain guidelines be framed to define the vicinity of the poultry farms as poor poultry workers and local residents living in or around the vicinity of poultry farms are more prone to catch the bacterial and viral infections.

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