Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 4 Hansard (2 May) . . Page.. 800..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
The reason for the timing of this bill is that the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, also known as ARMCANZ, made a decision in 2000 that all existing battery cage sizes had to be increased, as well as comply with the 1995 cage standards by 1 January 2008-in a little over six months. The increase we are talking about here is-wait for it-from just under three-quarters of an A4 page per bird to around an A4 page per bird. The idea is that in these new cages the birds will at least be able to lift their heads up; at the moment they cannot. There are multiple birds per cage section, but that is how much room is allowed for each bird in a battery cage environment. We also know that the cages are high rise.
The ARMCANZ decision will impact on the Pace egg production facility here in Parkwood. Their cages were installed in the late 1980s. Whether they like it or not, they will have to spend an awful lot of money in upgrading their cages to give the hens a little bit more room and to comply with the legislation. Because this is going to be a substantial financial cost to the facility, the Greens believe it is a good opportunity for the government to revisit the options for egg production in the ACT while causing least upset to the industry.
When the original bill was debated in the Assembly, the ALP supported it. We hope to see this support echoed in the passage of this bill too. If human rights applied to animals, the government would have no qualms about supporting the bill.
There are three major commercial systems of layer hens: battery cages, barn lay and free-range. Many members of the Assembly would be familiar with the issues around keeping hens in battery cages. The conditions in these battery cages are simply cruel and cannot provide for the behavioural and physical needs of hens. The pain and ongoing suffering of these hens is something that we, as legislators, should take responsibility for.
Caged hens are unable to stretch their wings fully, perch, scratch the ground, nest, dust bathe or exercise as they would in barn or free-range conditions. These hens are susceptible to plumage damage, maladaptive behaviour and bone fragility-not to mention a shortened life span, though, as they are generally slaughtered at around 72 weeks of age, this is not really an issue.
The ethics around keeping layer hens should lead us all to agree that there are far superior ways to produce eggs that do not involve locking hens into tiny wire cages. I have heard it argued that feather pecking and cannibalism are worse under barn layer systems than in battery cages, but this can be the case only when hens are otherwise locked in tiny cages, without room to stretch or opportunities for interaction. The same argument could be used for keeping prisoners in solitary confinement so that they cannot fight with each other. I do not think that the government, with its Human Rights Act, would go there.
Chooks generally can recognise only around 80 to 100 other birds; when a flock is larger than this they cannot establish a pecking order. Aggressive pecking and cannibalism need to be well controlled in these alternative systems. The best way to do this is to reduce the flock size per barn. Economies of scale are the main constraint