Government welfare body attacks ‘gamebird’ battery cages

Posted on the 13th November 2008

The government’s official advisory body on farmed animal welfare has today launched a devastating attack on the systems used to mass-produce pheasants and partridges for ‘sport’ shooting. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), in its Opinion on the Welfare of Farmed Gamebirds, is especially critical of battery cages for breeding birds. First exposed nationally by Animal Aid in 2004, these are metal and wire mesh boxes that are open to the elements all year round and hold one male and six or seven female pheasants. Partridges are held in pairs inside a metal walled box that measures just 2ft by 3ft.

‘The birds were kept in a barren environment on wire floors’, says the FAWC Opinion, ‘with minimal opportunity for seclusion. Design appeared to be influenced more by cost and manufacturing requirements than the bird’s welfare.’

Around 35 million pheasants and seven million partridges are produced for shooting every year in Britain. Barren cages are being increasingly used for breeding birds.

Although FAWC calls for the government to ban ‘gamebird’ cages within five years, it suggests that ‘enriched’ cages could provide a suitable environment for pheasants and partridges.

FAWC is also strongly critical of the various restraint and anti-aggression devices commonly employed by the industry. It calls for a ban on spectacles (used to limit vision) and a restriction in the use of plastic bits (that prevent the beak from closing properly). It also wants beak trimming outlawed and ‘research’ into Bumpa-bits (large mask-like contraptions that cover much of the birds’ faces).

The FAWC Opinion was commissioned by DEFRA to aid the development of a Code of Practice for the production of gamebirds. The Code itself was prompted by the passage of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. A Working Group is currently developing the Code. However, the government-appointed Group is dominated by shooting interests and it has commissioned key ‘scientific’ advice from the overtly pro-shooting Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust. This backdrop is unsurprising given that several ministers have recently spoken out in support of shooting birds for sport, and parliamentary backbench spokesperson on shooting, Martin Salter MP, has declared that Labour intends to ‘actively promote’ gamebird shooting.

Says Andrew Tyler, Director of Animal Aid:

‘Animal Aid gave detailed filmed, written and oral evidence to FAWC on the use of battery cages for holding breeding pheasants and partridges. FAWC’s Opinion, by the standards of official reports, amounts to a devastating attack on the gamebird industry. But while it calls for a ban on ‘barren cages’, it suggests that cages can remain in use if they are enriched. Animal Aid has filmed so-called ‘enriched’ cages and they remain an abomination. Cages of all descriptions should be banned outright. It should be remembered that gamebirds are not produced for food. Nearly forty million are factory-farmed each year to serve as feathered targets. The majority of the birds are not even eaten. FAWC, at best, deserves one cheer but ultimately its lack of courage has failed the birds who are the victims of this vile ‘sport’.’

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