Animals

 

Researchers Ask: Are Caged Chickens Miserable? Duh...

ABCNEWS.COM | MICHAEL J. CRUMB | 11/19/09

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Read More: animal rights, battery cages, bruce friedrich, chickens, HSUS, PETA

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Are cramped chickens crazy chickens?

Researchers are trying to answer that question through several studies that intend to take emotions out of an angry debate between animal welfare groups and producers.

At issue are small cages, typically 24 inches wide by 25 1/2 inches deep, that can be shared by up to nine hens. About 96 percent of eggs sold in the United States come from hens who live in the so-called battery cages from the day they're born until their egg-laying days end 18 to 24 months later.

Public opinion appears to side with those who oppose the cages. Voters in California approved a proposition last year that bans cramped cages for hens. And Michigan's governor signed legislation last month requiring confined animals to have enough room to turn around and fully extend their limbs.

Peter Skewes, a Clemson University researcher, is leading one of the studies comparing how different housing affects egg-laying hens. He said there are plenty of "emotional" opinions about whether the cages are inhumane, but few are based on facts.

"Hopefully we will contribute something so decisions can be made based on science and knowledge about how we house birds and the implications for different systems," said Skewes, who is in the early stages of a three-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But even as Skewes and others conduct research, some question the need to study an issue they argue was resolved long ago.

Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said banning the cages is a solution to an obvious problem.

"Think about the ... effects of not moving for up to 24 months," Friedrich said. "Their bones and muscles waste away and they go insane."

But even as Skewes and others conduct research, some question the need to study an issue they argue was resolved long ago.

Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said banning the cages is a solution to an obvious problem.

"Think about the ... effects of not moving for up to 24 months," Friedrich said. "Their bones and muscles waste away and they go insane."

Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States' Factory Farming Campaign, agreed.

"The egg industry is trying to muddy the waters by misleading people into believing that it's possible to confine birds in barren, tiny cages and have high welfare," he said.

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