Animal right advocates yesterday urged egg farmers to stop what they said was the inhumane practice of raising egg-laying hens in battery cages.
Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏) said the nation produces 6.7 billion eggs per year and that 99 percent of the hens laying those eggs are raised in battery cages.
“About two to four hens are locked in a cage slightly larger than a piece of A4-size paper,” Chen said. “They eat, drink and live in such a small space, tread on one another and peck at each other’s feathers. They cannot even stand with their feet touching the ground.”
The society also screened videos showing the plight of egg-laying hens at the press conference yesterday.
EAST executive director Chu Tseng-hung (朱增宏) said that hens raised in cages could suffer from poor metabolism and weak bones, and their owners could also inject them with antibiotics or other drugs to enhance growth. He said that eggs laid by such hens could be unhealthy.
“Not only are they [the eggs] low in nutritional value, they also generate concerns over possible drug residues,” Chu said.
Chu said that hens would have much more space to move around in if they were raised in a barn or allowed to roam outdoors freely, adding that owners would also need to prepare perches for hens to sit on and a sandbox for them to take dust baths in. Only healthy hens could produce healthy eggs, he said.
Chen said that the EU has already been enforcing a battery-cage ban since Jan. 1.
She added that Europe also required that eggs sold in the retail market had to have labels showing how the hens were raised, so that consumers could choose the type of eggs they prefer.
The society also urged consumers to purchase eggs laid by hens that were not raised in battery cages. More chicken farm owners would be motivated to abandon the inhumane practice if their eggs remained unsold.
However, officials from the Council of Agriculture said that more than 1,700 egg farmers around Taiwan would be affected directly, should the nation decide to launch a comprehensive overhaul of how hens are raised.
“Costs will increase by NT$260 per hen if hens are raised in barns, which could be quite a burden to a lot of egg farmers,” said Chou Wen-ling (周文玲), a specialist at the council’s animal protection division.
“Currently, an egg costs between NT$2 and NT$4, but those produced in barns or on free-range poultry farms could cost close to NT$10 each, which consumers might not accept,” he added.
Chou said that it took the EU nearly 20 years to reform breeding methods for hens.
Changing consumers’ perceptions takes time, she said.