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Battery-farmed eggs to be phased out by 2036 as Australian animal welfare reforms are brought in

chicken looking out of cage
New guidelines adopted from Thursday state that conventional layer hen cages will be phased out over the next 10 to 15 years and allocate more usable space in each chicken cage. Photograph: davidf/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Australia will phase out battery eggs by 2036, after a lengthy battle between the egg industry and animal welfare groups that the latter says will finally bring the country into line with Europe and New Zealand.

The reform was quietly announced on Thursday with the publication of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry, a framework that has been in negotiations between governments and industry for seven years.

The new guidelines state that egg producers will phase out the use of conventional layer hen cages over the next 10 to 15 years, and by 2036 at the latest, depending on the age of their current infrastructure.

From that point, all caged laying hens must have 750cm sq of usable space for each bird, if kept in a cage with two or more others. If the hen is caged alone, the cage must allow for 1m sq of usable space.

While animal welfare groups say the 14-year timeline is too long, industry group Egg Farmers of Australia released a statement that said it was “dissatisfied” the guidelines “fail to allow the option for conventional cage egg production to continue for a further 24 years”.

CEO Melinda Hashimoto said the guidelines were a “slap in the face” to egg farmers and “totally ignored evidence on why conventional cage eggs should continue to 2046”. Farmers rely on 30-year loans to pay for cages and other infrastructure, she said, and a 2036 deadline “could derive many family egg farmers to the wall”.

The new guidelines also require that ducks be provided with access to water to bathe in, and that chickens that are used in the meat industry be provided with “environmental enrichment” such as perches, hay or straw to scratch in, objects to peck and “dust-bathing materials”.

There is currently no regulatory requirement that ducks be provided with water other than drinking water.

RSPCA Australia’s chief executive, Richard Mussell, said it was a significant win for animal welfare.

“But most importantly, it will eventually be a win for the millions of layer hens confined to battery cages,” he said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 5.36 million layer hens, or 32% of the national flock, was caged in 2020-2021. In egg production alone, 50% of birds are caged.

Mussell said that he hoped state and territory governments would act to enforce the new guidelines long before 2036. The Australian Capital Territory banned the use of battery hen cages and sow stalls in 2014 but no other Australian jurisdiction has begun the legislative process to ban cage eggs.

New Zealand ended the use of battery cages this year after announcing a 10-year phase-out process in 2012. Most of Europe, including the UK, banned the use of battery cages in 2012; Mexico, Israel, and Canada have also banned battery cages.

Mussell said the slow pace of the reform – which included a public consultation process that received more than 160,000 submissions – was frustrating.

“These poultry standards and guidelines were under review for nearly seven years,” he said. “The phase out is the right result, and it should have been put in place six years ago. Millions more layer hens have had to endure barren battery cages as a result of these delays.”

The Humane Society of Australia, Animals Australia, and the Australian Alliance for Animals all welcomed the announcements that battery cages would be banned, but criticised the 14-year phase-out period.

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