The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the way animals are farmed for food, with biosecurity concerns over live animal ‘wet markets’ causing international concern.
In Australia, one of the nation’s leading animal welfare groups says the pandemic shows that it has never been more important for consumers to support businesses that produce humane food.
Eggs are a dietary staple for many Australians, and consumers can vote with their dollars, and their forks, when it comes to supporting humane farming, the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia says.
There are three types of egg production systems in Australia:
- ‘Caged’ or ‘battery’ eggs: A ‘battery’ cage system where chickens are housed in small cages. Animal welfare advocates oppose this system
- ‘Cage-free’: Sometimes referred to ‘barn-laid’, as chickens are housed in a barn without cages
- ‘Free-range’: Chickens are free to roam outside during the day and housed indoors at night.
Layer hens kept in cages are one of the biggest farm animal welfare issues in Australia, the RSPCA says.
Figures show that at least 10.7 million hens are confined to battery cages in Australia, which means they stand on wire flooring, with no space to stretch or flap their wings or have the opportunity to dust bathe or forage.
Despite the growing popularity of free-range and cage-free eggs, more than 70 per cent of the total number of layer hens in Australia are in battery cages.
“The science is clear, the community sentiment is clear, the food businesses are clear – battery cages are cruel and have no place in 21st century Australia,” the RSPCA says.
While many consumers are choosing to buy free-range or cage-free eggs from supermarkets and stores, battery cage-laid eggs are present in foods consumed when we eat out, or as ingredients in packaged products, the RSPCA warns.
While more than 75 per cent of OECD nations have already committed to transitioning their egg industries from using battery cages towards more humane and sustainable systems, Australia’s egg industry has “to date, steadfastly refused to negotiate on a staged transition away from battery cages despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and tide of public opinion moving against them”, the RSPCA says.
The organisation is urging consumers to help push for change and “seek out and continue to support humane food businesses that have made long term commitments to humane food”.