American Humane approves enriched colony hen housing as humane alternative to conventional cages

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With some states having already eliminated the use of so-called “battery cages” for commercial egg production, the American Humane Association’s farm animal welfare certification program, American Humane® Certified, announced today that it will now accept enriched colony housing systems as a humane practice for the housing of laying hens.

The significant decision by the nation’s oldest and largest farm animal welfare standards program effectively gives egg producers a second option in addition to cage-free housing as an alternative to conventional confinement cages — a widely used, but increasingly controversial, method that has been banned in California and Michigan. American Humane Certified will not certify conventional cages, but has determined that enhanced colony housing is scientifically acceptable, in part because the system provides nesting boxes and perches, in addition to other enrichments, which allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors.

American Humane Certified’s decision to include enriched colony housing as an option for humane housing comes after extensive scientific review of the behavior and welfare of laying hens housed in such systems in Europe, where conventional cages are scheduled to be banned completely in 2012, after a 10-year phase-out period.

Internationally renowned animal behavior expert Temple Grandin, a member of American Humane Certified’s scientific advisory committee, is a strong advocate for enriched housing systems. “Conventional cage housing systems do not offer hens sufficient room to express natural behaviors, whereas enriched cages provide space for them to lie down, spread their wings and turn around, as well as offering nests, perches and scratching areas,” Grandin said. “This is the direction that producers need to take, as they have successfully already done in Europe.”

In addition to its scientific review of overseas operations, American Humane Certified has commissioned a two-year international layer hen study (to be completed in late 2011) to further explore the habits and natural behaviors of hens in their environments. “There’s been a dearth of scientific studies to explore how the welfare of the birds is impacted by their ability to express natural movements and other behaviors,” said Inmaculada Estevez, Ph.D., lead researcher. “Our study will offer many important insights into this question, but it is clear that enriched housing systems like those used in Europe meet the standards for humane farm animal practices.”

While the benefits are known, American Humane Certified notes that enriched housing systems must be implemented properly to ensure a humane environment for the birds.

“We stress that any humane housing system must include proper training and education,” said animal welfare expert and American Humane Certified vice president Tim Amlaw. “We are employing video monitoring of enriched colony housing systems to study the behavior of the hens, as well as appropriate management of the system. Producers will be able to take quick action around any issues that impact the well-being of both animals and people.”

American Humane Certified is the United States’ first animal-welfare program dedicated to the humane treatment of farm animals. It is the fastest growing independent animal-welfare label program in the U.S. American Humane has certified producers representing more than 60 million farm animals through American Humane’s science-based program. As consumers and retailers are increasingly concerned about how food is raised, producers are seeking independent verification for the marketplace. Based on American Humane’s 133-year legacy of being the gold standard for humane behavior, consumers trust the American Humane Certified label. Learn more at www.thehumanetouch.org.

About American Humane Association

Since 1877, the historic American Humane Association has been at the forefront of every major advancement in protecting children, pets and farm animals from cruelty and abuse and neglect. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding human-animal interaction and its role in society. As the nation’s voice for the protection of children and animals, American Humane Association reaches millions of people every day through groundbreaking research, education, training and services that span a wide network of organizations, agencies and businesses. You can help make a difference, too. Visit American Humane Association at www.americanhumane.org today.

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