22nd February 2005
Dear Mr. Runkle,
I have viewed the video entitled "MFA's Investigation of Ohio Fresh Eggs in Croton, Ohio". The video shows scenes from a laying hen battery cage operation, and I have the following comments.
The hens are very badly de-feathered (some are almost naked) and this is probably due to a combination of feather-pecking and feather abrasion against the sides of the old and poorly designed cages. Although the lack of feathers does not of itself reduce welfare, the bare skin has no protection from pecks and scratches of other birds or from abrasions against the cage. This means that the birds are at high risk of continually suffering pain as they jostle together.
The hens are extremely crowded in the cages. This degree of crowding would not be tolerated in Canada or in the European Union. In my opinion, keeping birds at this density causes unnecessary stress and a reduction of welfare.
Many of the hens are suffering from various painful lesions. Several birds are shown with swellings around the mouth and eye regions. Some birds are blind in at least one eye with suppurating matter around the lesion - a sign of severe infection. Other hens have severe lesions to other parts of the body. One hen is shown with a painful prolapsed oviduct. All these sores and injuries are likely to be extremely painful and are, without doubt, reducing welfare to a great extent.
Many hens are shown trapped in different ways by the poorly designed cages and in various states of collapse. Many more birds are shown having died from being trapped and in various stages of decomposition. This is absolutely unacceptable. A more horrible, painful and stressful way to die I cannot imagine. The presence of all these trapped birds (alive and dead) is proof that they were never inspected. The very least that any manager can do for the animals in their care, is look at them every day to ensure that they are well and not in need of any assistance.
In my view, this battery cage unit represents an extremely bad case of cruelty through neglect. It looks to me as if the hens have been put in these cages at the start of the laying year and then completely forgotten about. Feeding, drinking, manure removal and egg collection are all automated and so there is no "need" for a human being to walk through the barn and ensure that everything is well with the hens. As a result the birds have suffered enormously and in any civilised country, the perpetrators of such cruelty would be prosecuted, found guilty (for there can be no defence against such long-running neglect), and punished severely.
I feel qualified to comment on this case since I am an expert in poultry welfare. I worked for 20 years at the AFRC Poultry Research Centre (a Government Research Institute), in Edinburgh, Scotland on poultry welfare problems before emigrating to Canada and the University of Guelph in 1989. I have continued to work on animal welfare problems, mainly with poultry through the 16 years I have been in Guelph. I have published about 150 scientific papers and book chapters most of which are concerned with poultry welfare, and I travel the world lecturing on animal welfare.
Ian J.H. Duncan