Hen Caging (Prohibition)

– in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 22nd September 2021.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley 1:47 pm, 22nd September 2021

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the caging of commercially reared, egg-laying hens and pullets;
and for connected purposes.

The people of Britain are some of the most caring and compassionate people in the world. We are a nation of people who care about justice, about each other and, of course, about animals. As the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs eloquently put it in his Department’s “Action Plan for Animal Welfare”:

“We are a nation of animal lovers.”

Therefore, we must ensure that we treat animals with compassion. The Bill will help do that by liberating millions of hens from inhumane cages.

The UK banned the use of battery cages for hens in 2012, but the ban did not extend to so-called enriched cages. Those cages are larger than conventional battery cages but still do not allow adequate space for the hens’ natural behaviours. When these behaviours cannot be performed, or are severely restricted, it can lead to frustration that is extremely detrimental to their wellbeing. That is why enriched cages have been condemned by animal welfare bodies. For example, the RSPCA released a statement with several organisations that stated:

“It is clear that such modified cages fail to properly meet the hens’ physical or behavioural needs. They…severely restrict many important physical activities, including running, flying, and wing-flapping;
and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing. The severe restriction of the hens’ ability to exercise is likely to lead to frustration, bone weakness and osteoporosis—clear indicators of poor welfare.”

Studies show that hens have a high level of intelligence, social and verbal complexity. They have individual personalities and have been shown to experience empathy when hearing the calls of their chicks. Despite this complexity and evident sentience, countless hens continue to languish in cramped cages that make it near impossible for them to express their natural behaviours and that cause extreme suffering.

One such hen, Beatrice, was just a few days old when she was put into a cage. With every day she spent there, she became more and more frail. She lost most of her feathers and became underweight, and her bones grew brittle. For two years she woke up to the same noisy, crowded misery. Luckily, Beatrice was rescued by a kind individual, but millions of hens around the world remain in cages that severely impact their welfare. Given my first name, I had considered subtitling my Bill “Hen’s Bill”, but I think it should be “Beatrice’s Bill”—Beatrice should get the credit.

Countries such as Austria, Switzerland and Germany have banned cages for hens. On 8 June 2021, Nevada became the ninth US state to ban the use of cages for laying hens, and just two weeks ago the EU committed to phasing out cages for animals by 2027. The Bill is therefore key to the UK’s claiming its place at the forefront of animal welfare standards and ending the unnecessary suffering of millions of hens like Beatrice.

The Bill has enormous public support. According to a report published in 2020 by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, 76% of consumers want the banning of cages to be a priority. Also last year, Compassion in World Farming published a poll, carried out by YouGov, that found that 88% of the British public believe that the use of cages in farming is cruel to animals. A petition on the Compassion in World Farming website that calls for cages to be banned in the UK currently has around 600,000 signatures.

In addition to the Bill having public support, most major retailers and egg producers are also in favour of going cage-free. All leading supermarkets—including Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Co-op and Lidl—are committed to selling only cage-free shell eggs by 2025. That applies not only to their own-brand shell eggs but to all shell eggs sold in stores. Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s are already 100% free-range for shell eggs.

Many major companies in the restaurant, manufacturing and catering sectors also have public commitments to transition to 100% cage-free egg use by 2025. Several leading restaurant chains—including PizzaExpress, Nando’s and Pret a Manger—are already sourcing only cage-free eggs, and more than three quarters of the sector is now committed to doing so. All those commitments apply to both shell and ingredient eggs.

Egg packers are also overwhelmingly moving towards a cage-free future. According to research by the Humane League UK, 71% of egg packers are either cage-free already, have publicly committed to being cage-free by 2025, or have publicly stated their intention to become a cage-free operation.

Unfortunately, despite the industry support, 38% of eggs in the UK still come from cages. That equates to approximately 16 million laying hens a year. The Humane League UK estimates that, even with corporate cage-free commitments, up to 8 million laying hens annually will remain in cages throughout the country, and it anticipates that cage eggs will still be sold in a number of sectors in which either it is unclear where ingredients are coming from, or organisations have not signed up to cage-free commitments, as is the case with many major pet-food companies, wholesalers and single-location restaurants. Without this Bill, therefore, hens will continue to suffer on an enormous scale.

Several major companies, including Nestlé—which is headquartered in my constituency—Greggs and Premier Foods are now calling for the backing of legislation to ensure that no eggs come from caged hens. For example, Nestlé stated:

“Farm animals deserve decent welfare standards. Nestlé supports a phasing out of caged systems for all egg laying hens, building on industry efforts to date. We’re proud to source 100% cage free eggs for all our food products in the UK.”

Similarly, the president of Kraft Heinz Northern Europe, said:

“We are proud to have committed to ending the use of cages for laying hens in our supply chain. It’s now time for policy makers to follow suit so that all laying hens are spared this suffering.”

Building on that message, the Sustainable Restaurant Association stated that it

“recognises the progress that the industry, including many of the 12,000 restaurant sites that we work with, have made in moving away from sourcing caged-eggs, but the reality is that this cruel method of production will only cease when the government enacts legislation.”

Moving towards a cage-free future for hens is a goal that has widespread parliamentary support throughout this House. Combined with the Government’s stated commitment to animal welfare and to review the policy on cages, that represents near-total public, private and parliamentary support.

Of course, there will be some up-front costs associated with a move away from cages and towards systems that better safeguard animal welfare standards. In the beginning, farmers will need the support of the Government to transition, which is why I am proud that the 2019 Conservative party manifesto explicitly stated our commitment to support farmers to work in a way that safeguards

“high standards of animal welfare.”

In March last year, the Government elaborated on that by saying that

“we are developing publicly funded schemes for English farmers to provide public goods—including animal welfare enhancements”. —[Official Report, 16 March 2020; Vol. 673, c. 252WH.]

To conclude, I congratulate the Government on the many steps they are taking to promote animal welfare. I am proud that my party is leading the way on a range of new laws, including the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Such laws will introduce profound changes that will positively affect the lives of countless vulnerable animals. The purpose of my Bill is to continue that great work through a ban on cages for hens in the UK.

My Bill will end the needless suffering of millions of caged hens like Beatrice in the UK. It is economically viable and will bring our laws into line with the strength of public feeling about this issue. It will also prevent companies from being undercut by businesses with lower animal welfare standards and help to confirm Britain’s position as a world leader in animal welfare. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“The way we treat animals reflects our values and the kind of people we are.”

I could not agree more, which is why I urge the Government and this House to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Henry Smith, Sir David Amess, Sir Roger Gale, Dr Lisa Cameron, Caroline Lucas, Christian Wakeford, Mr John Baron, Rosie Cooper, Giles Watling and Tracey Crouch present the Bill.

Henry Smith accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 October, and to be printed (Bill 166).