Cages not the heaven they’re made out to be

Jacob’s defense of confining birds to battery cages is misleading at best.

This column is in response to Jacquie Jacob’s March 8 guest column, “The Welfare of the Laying Hen: The Caged versus Cage-Free Debate.” As a veterinarian who is familiar with animal agriculture practices, I was surprised to read Jacob’s defense of battery cages.

Jacob asserts it is “misleading” to say each bird has “space equivalent to a single sheet of paper” and that it is “relative” because each hen weighs about three and a half pounds. In actuality, each bird has even less space than a sheet of paper in which to live. The standard today in the battery-cage egg industry is approximately 61 square inches of space per bird, although the University’s producer provides even less space than this standard. A piece of paper is 93.5 square inches, so each of these birds has less space than a sheet of paper. Furthermore, it is “misleading” to imply that it is humane and sufficient to overcrowd these social animals into small, barren wire cages where they are denied participation in even the most basic hen behaviors for their entire existence. Jacob also mentions the lack of standards for cage-free egg production. Yet, the Certified Humane Raised & Handled egg producer standards that the University is considering are audited for compliance with rigorous, science-based standards. In fact, the scientists who created these animal welfare standards (which of course prohibit battery cages) are some of the most reputable animal husbandry professionals in the country.

Dr. Bernard Rollin, a professor of animal science at the University of Colorado, writes, “Virtually all aspects of hen behavior are thwarted by battery cages: social behavior, nesting behavior, the ability to move and flap wings, dustbathing, space requirements, scratching for food, exercise, pecking at objects on the ground … The most obvious problem is lack of exercise and natural movement.”

So far, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the University Dining Services Student Advisory Board and the Council of Graduate Students here voted to urge dining services to adopt a cage-free eggs. The Daily has editorialized in favor of going cage free. It is unfortunate that UDS is siding with factory farmers instead of responding to student demand for improved animal welfare.

Christopher D. Patterson is a veterinarian in the Richmond, Va., area. Please send comments to [email protected]