Currently, there is one set of standards for egg-laying hens, but another for gamebirds. The EU introduced a ban on battery cages for hens in 2012, but no such ban exists for gamebirds.
Although conditions are not exactly luxurious for egg-laying hens, there are at least some basic provisions, such as: the space per hen being approximately 20 percent larger than an A4 piece of paper, limits on the number of hens per cage, and enrichment items, such as nest boxes, litter, perch space, and claw-shortening devices, being mandatory. Gamebirds are not even provided with this basic level of provision.
The legal distinction is that there are minimum standards for birds bred or kept for farming, whereas animals intended for use in competitions, shows, cultural or sporting events, or activities, are not required to reach these minimum standards.
I understand that these two sets of birds have differing purposes, but at the end of the day they are all birds, and as such, all deserve to be kept in decent conditions. There is a strong case in particular for gamebirds to be kept in better conditions, as they are semi-wild, and therefore, more so than domesticated chickens, find confinement highly stressful.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, and raised this issue with him.
I have now received a reply from David Rutley, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Food and Animal Welfare, which you can see below.
As the Minister points out, DEFRA’s welfare code states that “barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used. Any system should be appropriately enriched.”
However, this code is voluntary, and the Government is not willing to make it legally binding, which makes the code a joke.
The Minister did say that the Animal and Plant Health Agency would investigate potential breaches of animal welfare legislation, but the problem is, the welfare standards enshrined in law are lower for gamebirds than for farm birds.
I can assure you that I will continue to push for gamebirds to have higher welfare standards, in line with farm birds, and for DEFRA’s code to be made mandatory.