Henry Smith: Animal Welfare Bill calls for protections for laying hens, which are often subjected to significant suffering

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Henry Smith is MP for Crawley.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is currently going through Parliament to enshrine sentience in UK law, recognizing that animals experience suffering and pain. With this in mind, it is right that we address animal welfare shortcomings where we see them and support measures to prevent suffering and pain such as those included in the global action plan for this government for animal welfare.

One area that still needs to be addressed is the welfare of laying hens in the UK at end of life. It is important that these approximately 39 million animals are not forgotten in our efforts to raise standards.

In their final hours, laying hens are often subjected to significant pain and injury. The speed of human handling can lead to severe bruising, broken bones and dislocations when caught and loaded onto transport, and this suffering continues during the journey to the slaughterhouse where legs and wings can get stuck between boxes for many hours. Alleviating this suffering is a key motivation for the amendment I have tabled to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

The UK code of practice for the welfare of laying hens allows hens to be caught and carried upside down by their legs. Unlike other animals, chickens do not have a diaphragm, which means the weight of their organs on their lungs when held upside down makes breathing very difficult, painful and can lead to death. It’s no wonder, then, that last year the Dutch Trade and Industry Court of Appeal ruled that handling chickens by the feet was against animal protection regulations during transport. This amendment therefore aims to improve British standards by ensuring that hens are transported standing, no more than one in each hand.

Another major welfare concern for hens at the end of lay, which this amendment addresses, is the inadequate size of the transport modules used to get to the slaughterhouse, a journey that can take many hours. Currently these modules are based on the broiler chicken which is weaker and shorter than the late lay hens, meaning the latter are much larger, often crammed into tiny crates with their necks, heads, their wings and their longer legs trapped. If the welfare of these hens is to be taken seriously, it is essential that they have enough space to stand up without difficulty during transport, and that their limbs are not crushed or pinched for hours. between devices.

Although seemingly small steps, they represent a significant change for the millions of laying hens reared in the UK. Taking action to improve our farming practices is also a top concern for UK consumers, with an overwhelming 98% of people saying in a recent survey that protecting the welfare of farmed animals is important to them.

The UK is proud to introduce further measures to enhance the welfare conditions of livestock during transport before slaughter, and it is only fitting that we extend these principles to laying hens as well. By doing so, we can prevent the suffering of millions of animals at the end of their lives.

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