Chris Packham: ‘The spectacle of pheasants and partridges in overcrowded cages makes my stomach turn.’

Posted on the 20th December 2019

As reported in today’s Independent, TV naturalist, Chris Packham has urged supermarkets to cut their ties with suppliers that keep breeding game birds in raised laying cages.

Leading supermarket, Sainsbury’s, has admitted that it sells partridge meat from birds whose parents have been confined to cruel cages. These parent birds produce the eggs that are hatched, with the chicks then reared and sent off to shooting estates. Another leading food chain – M&S – has repeatedly dodged questions about whether it also uses suppliers that imprison breeding pheasants and partridges. And there are still questions about the way in which suppliers to Waitrose treat their birds.

Although we have been unable to ascertain which game farms supply the two high street retailers, Animal Aid’s undercover filming at game farms in England and Wales has shown that whether the breeding game birds are confined in enriched or unenriched cages, they suffer appallingly. The stress of being caged leads the paired birds to lunge repeatedly at the cage roof and to attack one another. Inside those cages, the birds’ natural instincts and behaviours are thwarted. They cannot roam, roost, dust bathe, flap their wings, thermoregulate or fly. Rather than alleviate their stress, the shooting industry’s answer is to restrict the birds’ beaks by placing ‘bits’ over them in order to limit the damage that they can do to each other.

With regards to the sale of chicken eggs, Sainsbury’s website sets out its credentials: ‘At Sainsbury’s we care about the hens laying our eggs.  That’s why we only stock eggs from 100% British and cage free hens. All of our own-brand eggs also come from RSPCA Assured farms which adhere to welfare standards.’ It is therefore totally out of step to sell game meat that originates from farms where breeding birds are confined to cages. M&S states: ‘We have a 100% free range egg policy covering both whole eggs (since 1997) and eggs used as ingredients in our prepared foods (since 2002).’ 

There is huge support for an end to the cages. A 2018 YouGov poll found that 80% of people thought the cages should be banned[i]. This is echoed by calls for the abolition of cages for all farmed animals. A Government petition calling for an End to the Cage Age garnered over 107,000 signatures, and is due to be debated in Parliament.

Says Fiona Pereira, Campaign Manager:   

‘Caged birds – whether they are chickens or game birds used for breeding – suffer enormously. It makes no sense for leading food retailers to have one policy for chickens and disregard the welfare of game birds.

‘As a vegan organisation, we are opposed to all industries that harm and exploit animals, and there is simply no such thing as ethical meat or other animal products. However, a positive step for animal welfare would be for all supermarkets to cut their ties with any suppliers that rely on the especially callous practice of caging game birds.’

Notes to Editors

[i] A June 2018 YouGov poll of over 2000 people across Great Britain on behalf of Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports, revealed that 80 per cent oppose the use of cages to confine breeding birds (only 11% disagreed). The poll also found that 69% of people think that shooting birds for sport should be illegal (only 18% thought it should be legal, 13% did not have an opinion on the issue).


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