A  massive amount of public attention has been devoted to the issue of hunting foxes. Indeed more parliamentary time has been spent on the issue of fox-hunting that on the invasion of Iraq. This attention to fox-hunting , which affected a few thousand foxes, has distracted attention from the horrendous life-long conditions of many millions of farm animals.  The largest numbers of victims are hens, which in their tens of millions have suffered appalling conditions that would deeply shock the public if they ever saw what is happening.

There has been some legislation to improve conditions.  The startling cruel battery cages for hens have been made illegal,  and hens are supposed now to be kept in ‘enriched’ cages.   But they still live in dreadful, unnatural cramped conditions, and for its entire life each hen has hardly more room than a sheet of A4 paper.  The fact that the hens still have to be de-beaked to prevent aggressive feather-plucking and cannibalism is sure evidence that that their cramped conditions are distressing  and extremely unnatural. There is also an exceptionally high incidence of painful problems with weakened bones.

It is only quite recently that the legislation has forced hen farmers to improve conditions, doubtless at considerable expense.  So it would not be fair to oblige the farmers immediately to move to a less cruel system; but we should be moving that way.

The RSPCA has requested that all cages for laying birds should be ended, and that the hens should be housed in a barn or free-range system. And this is something we should be aiming for, even if not immediately.

In fact even the free-range systems need reforming and better regulation. When the supermarkets sell ‘free range’ eggs to the public, many of the purchasers would be shocked to see the conditions of the chickens – very far from a pleasing rustic image of free range. In fact the huge flocks of chickens are sometimes so traumatized that they cower inside their sheds, not daring to venture outside.

It is not only egg- laying birds that suffer. The hens in broiler systems also lead a desperate life.  Some of the broiler units are colossal, with flocks of more than 100,000 birds.  In fact the British  poultry industry
produces a total more than a hundred million birds a year. Most live in horrible conditions, and we should be ashamed at the cruelty being quietly perpetrated on such a massive scale. Why should chickens be any less deserving than foxes?

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