No Animal Left Behind: investigations reveal laying hens are suffering in cages on EU factory farms


No Animal Left Behind: investigations reveal laying hens are suffering in cages on EU factory farms

25 April 2023
Humánny Pokrok

All over Europe, laying hens are living stifled and limited lives behind bars. Recent investigations by our members Essere Animali, Equalia and Humánny Pokrok highlight what life in a cage really looks like for these poor sentient beings, emphasising why a truly cage-free future isn’t just desirable, but critical for their welfare.

No space to move. No access to natural light. Their bodies mutilated. These are just some of the circumstances laying hens in cages tragically experience in their short lives, in which they’re forced to lay huge quantities of eggs while suppressing their own natural behaviours and needs.

It’s an unbearable existence - and it’s one that the European Commission has the power to change, by effectively phasing out cages across Europe while also making specific rules for laying hens in their upcoming revision of the animal welfare legislation. Both are key opportunities for policymakers to put the wellbeing of these innocent birds first, and change millions of lives.

The time is now. Captured and shared by our members across the continent, these undercover investigations prove the issues laying hens in cages face span several Member States. Their problems are an EU concern, which only EU laws can address sufficiently. Read on.

Equalia: laying hens in cages in Spain

In 2021, Equalia published a shocking expose video on the experiences of caged laying hens on a Spanish factory farm. Not only did their footage show laying hens in great physical, emotional and mental distress, it also proved that these kinds of housing conditions can become incredibly unhygienic - posing a great risk to public health. 

You can see:

  • Dead laying hens decomposing next to the living
  • Plucked and injured birds struggling to cope, and immersed in near-total darkness
  • Mites growing in eggs intended for human consumption, and pests like rats running among the birds

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already concluded cages are unsafe, as there’s a clear connection between the amount of birds in cages and prevalence of diseases such as salmonella.

While Equalia acknowledges progress has been made towards transitioning to cage-free systems in Spain, it’s clear more needs to be done to ensure they’re truly banned from Europe’s farming systems. No shortcuts are to be taken if we want to be confident that the health and happiness of these birds - and that of Europe’s citizens - has been addressed as seriously as it deserves.

Essere Animali: laying hens in cages in Italy

In Italy, what Essere Animali recently uncovered about an egg-producing hens farm is nothing short of sickening. Their hard-hitting footage and investigative work shows a range of immoral and even illegal actions taking place, such as:

  • Hens being illegally slaughtered without being stunned first 
  • Animals being violently treated, including by being thrown to the ground, grabbed by the legs and crushed into cages by workers’ feet
  • Eggs falsely and illegally being marketed as ‘free range’

Since the launch of Essere Animali’s investigation, the farm has fortunately been sentenced on several charges - but it’s worrying that these abuses and illegalities were able to slip through the cracks in the first place, especially as this investigation was preceded by another in 2019 detailing similar problems. Sign Essere Animali’s petition here for better animal welfare laws.

Humánny Pokrok: laying hens in cages in Slovakia

This year, our member Humánny Pokrok published the first investigation exploring the lives of caged laying hens in Slovakia. Filmed across three locations, what they found was far from pretty.

Their footage shows laying hens: 

  • Suffering from severe feather loss and untreated injuries 
  • Shoved together in tiny, suffocating and lightless spaces
  • Dying in obscene ways - one laying hen was even recorded being thrown into a garbage can and buried alive

The footage spread quickly throughout Slovakia. In the first 48 hours after it was published, it had reached one in five people, and inspired further political discussion about a ban on cages. Slovakian residents can sign Humánny Pokrok’s ongoing petition for such a ban here.

Laying hens deserve comfortable and satisfying lives! Do you agree?

Citizens across Europe have already called for the cage age to end - now it’s time for the European Commission to deliver, as well as to create specific rules for laying hens to ensure they live happier, freer, and healthier lives. It’s completely in the power of policymakers to bring about this positive change.

It’s time for the suffering of laying hens to end, and begin a new era that puts their welfare first.

This year, we’re calling for no animal to be left behind in the updated animal welfare legislation. Add your voice to our call for change.