Even as countries around the world are banning battery cages or any cages at all for egg-laying hens and are taking steps to stop the routine killing of male chicks, who are disposed of because they cannot lay eggs, these Rules allow egg-laying hens in India to be kept in cages that offer them a mere 550 square centimetres – a space essentially no larger than a standard piece of typing paper. The new cage size requirements are so restrictive that these would be considered “battery cages”, which have long been illegal in the European Union (EU). What’s more, the Rules shockingly state that farms do not have to implement the new animal welfare guidelines until 2029.
The Rules also require that male chicks be killed “as provided in the guidelines for World Organization of Animal Health”. Yet currently, as PETA India has revealed, factory-farmed chicks are burned, drowned, crushed, fed live to fish, or killed in other cruel ways. Their killing would be made systematic – but not until 2029. Austria, France, Germany, and Luxembourg are prohibiting the killing of male chicks. PETA India has been working to persuade Indian authorities to use in ovo technology, which would allow eggs to be destroyed at an early stage of development, avoiding the killing of live birds. Now, nine EU countries are calling for a Europe-wide ban on the systematic killing of male chicks by the egg industry.
This backward step comes even though the government body Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had issued a circular to state governments six years ago advising that battery cages must be phased out by 2017. Battery cages are considered to violate Section 11(1)(e) of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, which requires that animals confined to cages be provided with reasonable opportunity for movement.
The requirement under the new Rules that egg-laying hens be able to flap their wings and turn around is a farce, because hens need about 893 square centimetres to stretch their wings, 1876 square centimetres to flap their wings, and 1272 square centimetres to turn around – and none of these can be done in the cages allowed under the Rules.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Egg Laying Hens) Rules, 2023, prohibit forced moulting (starving birds to manipulate their bodies into producing eggs) and turning chickens into cannibals by feeding them dead chicken waste. However, as far back as in 2011 – 12 years ago – the AWBI issued a circular pointing out that forced moulting violates the PCA Act, 1960, and calling on states and union territories to ensure forced moulting was ended.
Meanwhile, most of Europe, including the UK, banned battery cages in 2012. Canada, Israel, and Mexico have also banned them, and other countries are following suit. Denmark and France are taking steps to stop the use of cages for egg-laying hens altogether.
Finally, the punishment for violating the new Rules is per section 38(3) of the PCA Act, 1960 – there is no minimum punishment prescribed, and the maximum punishment is a mere Rs 100 fine or imprisonment for up to three months.
Egg-laying hens are crammed inside filthy cages so small they can’t stretch out even one wing. Hens kept in filthy, overcrowded conditions are also susceptible to a whole host of infections, parasites, and diseases, including the quick-spreading bird flu.