The poultry industry in Sri Lanka has shown a phenomenal growth over the recent past thereby making poultry products essential food items in local menus. The demand for chicken and eggs has therefore been met by local producers. This is a story about the local egg production. Sri Lanka has a daily consumption of approximately 65,000 eggs and this consumption will definitely increase in the coming years. While most local farmers follow the conventional method of producing eggs, few others follow more technologically advanced methods.
Recently a group of interested parties requested the implementation of the battery cage system to produce eggs. This request however raised concerns among the local farmer community, provoking them to take to the streets a few days back. In an attempt to shed light on this matter, the Daily Mirror outlines its advantages, animal welfare concerns and what experts in this business and other parties had to say.
Our main objective is to ensure food safety and quality
: Battery cage industry source
An industry source in the battery cage business who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Mirror that egg production in Sri Lanka is currently done by the deep litter system. “But the production and quality off eggs produced this way is low. The eggs are exposed to faecal matter and this would result in the spread of diseases as well. When consumption increases, there has to be a way to improve technology and increase the production of eggs. Through the battery cage system we can increase buyer sensitivity and have better quality products. If you go to a supermarket or a five star hotel you will see that the quality of eggs is different to what you would see at a grocery store. As demand for consumption increases, the production too has to increase. It takes five months for a laying hen to grow before laying eggs,” the source said.
When asked about the complaints regarding lower prices, the source further said that during the years 2015/2016, egg prices went on a record high and all these farmers had enjoyed this increase in prices. “So they could have protested then as well right? Then these farmers started oversupplying eggs and then there was an excess. When there’s an excess you can’t either stop the bird from producing eggs nor can you depopulate the farm. This is a normal cycle and by stopping one system you cannot put the other on hold. In terms of production, battery cage farmers do a lot to improve quality of the eggs. We engage in segregation of eggs, so that the weight would be equal. But small farmers include broken, dirty and smaller eggs in to the boxes.”
This is a normal cycle and by stopping one system you cannot put the other on hold. In terms of production, battery cage farmers do a lot to improve quality of the eggs. We engage in segregation of eggs, so that the weight would be equal. But small farmers include broken, dirty and smaller eggs in to the boxes
Speaking in terms of animal welfare, the source added that in the battery cage system, cannibalism and overcrowding are common issues. “Hence there are no standards in Sri Lanka governing production or the animal welfare system when it comes to animal husbandry. This applies to welfare practices in both floor-rearing and cage-rearing. If farmers oppose the animal welfare aspect, that would be for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka. Welfare standards should be established for both practices. In that case we would comply with them. But at the end of the day our main objective is to ensure food safety and to offer a quality product to the consumers.”
Battery cage system will affect small and medium scale farmers
: AIEMA Chairman
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, All Island Egg Manufacturers Association (AIEMA) Chairman R. M Sarath Rathnayake said that there are close to 6000 small to medium scale egg farmers in the country. “This industry is one of the main occupations in the Wayamba Province. The rest of the farmers are those who are involved in this battery cage business. But some time ago, this was banned all over the world mainly due to concerns regarding animal cruelty. Although it was banned, the cages were imported to Sri Lanka. The daily egg consumption in Sri Lanka is approximately 65,000 and production sums up to around 85,000 eggs. In the battery cage system, these people include close to five hens in a cage that is close to two square feet in area. So by the time they are close to their laying period, legs and wings are broken in 30% and 40% of the hens respectively. This was one of the reasons why it was banned as it was considered a sin. In a conventional cage we can house hens in the upper cage and the one below and continue this business.”
Battery cage system would cost Rs. 8.50 as opposed to Rs. 11.50 when produced in the conventional method
Speaking further Ratnayake said that an egg produced using the battery cage system would cost Rs. 8.50 as opposed to Rs. 11.50 when produced in the conventional method. “But in supermarket chains the price is different because they cater to a different consumer base. All these small and medium scale farmers are burdened with debts, but those in the battery cage business make huge profits. In the battery cage business you also don’t need many people to work when compared to the conventional method. So if the Minister moves forward with this proposal there will be no job opportunities created for the local generations as well. Therefore the battery cage system will affect the entire population of small and medium scale farmers. If this proposal is approved we are ready to stage a huge protest in Colombo.”
It’s solitary confinement to an animal
: Jagath Gunawardena
Since many concerns were raised regarding the animal rights aspect of this issue, the Daily Mirror consulted the opinion of environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardena. He said that some people use this method as a means of conserving space. “But it is a cruel practice and it basically is a solitary confinement to an animal. Hence there is no justification whatsoever.”
It is a cruel practice. Hence there is no justification whatsoever
No laws to govern animal welfare in animal husbandry
The Daily Mirror also contacted the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) to inquire about the laws, rules and regulations governing animal welfare in animal husbandry. A source that wished to remain anonymous confirmed that as at present there are no rules nor regulations implemented with regard to animal welfare in animal husbandry.
Burning my effigies won’t solve problem
: P. Harrison
Speaking to the media with regard to the recently held protest organised by the AIEMA and poultry farmers in the Wayamba Province, Rural Economic Affairs Minister P. Harrison said that the battery cage system was introduced during the Rajapakse regime. “The solution to this issue is not burning my effigies. We are trying to take this forward and provide the necessary compensation.
Since many people are involved in this business in a mega-scale, the small and medium scale farmers will be affected. Battery cages have also been banned in other countries. So we will give some time for those who have already established this business to continue their production, but we won’t allow anybody else to build them in future, thereby giving an opportunity to the local producers to continue their production as usual.
We will give some time for those who have already established this business to continue their production, but we won’t allow anybody else to build them in future, thereby giving an opportunity to the local producers
Battery cage systems and their implications
In those parts of the world where the poultry industry is most developed, including Europe and the USA, over 90% of laying hens are housed in battery cages. ‘Laying hens’ produce eggs which are sold for human consumption. Like with many other birds, eggs may be produced without any intervention by males. Hence, the eggs are infertile and therefore it’s necessary to keep breeding flocks to produce the fertile eggs from which the laying hens will hatch.
Cages were originally introduced for single laying hens to allow recording of individual egg production and culling of poor layers. Later several birds were placed in each cage and group sizes of three to six are most commonly seen now. Space allowances for laying hens in cages vary in different countries from about 300 square centimetres (sq. cm) per bird upward, but in the UK and other member of countries of the European Economic Community (EEC) there is a legal minimum of 450 sq. cm per bird. This is laid down by a Directive of the Commission of the European Communities (86/113/EEC).
While many would heavily condemn the battery cage system since many hens are included in a limited space, an animal husbandry system should follow certain guidelines. Hence, the Farm Animal Welfare Council in UK has proposed that an animal husbandry system should provide animals with :
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from thermal and physical discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Freedom from fear and distress
- Freedom to exercise most normal patterns of behaviour
Welfare problems for hens in all forms of housing should be considered in these five areas as they are common to all husbandry systems.