Philip with Huckle, the latest addition to the family
I’m watching the latest addition to our family; a small, featherless hen fresh from her battery cage. Her entire life has been spent crammed with others into a cage where she could not even stretch her wings, let alone walk, flap, scratch at the ground. In short, she was denied being able to do the things that make life worth living for a hen. Just hours away from that wretched existence and her weakened body responds to the warmth of the sun. She walks the length and breadth of our garden. She scratches at the ground and pecks inquisitively at a world previously denied her.
I was recently asked how I feel about the European ban on barren battery cages, due to come into force on New Year’s Day. Put simply, it is perhaps the most monumental victory in the history of animal welfare. It is a huge success story won by the persistence of so many.
After all, it takes a lot to get something banned. Especially when that something dominates an entire industry. Churning out a staple product – eggs – for much of Europe. Yet, we did it. By waving banners, writing letters, buying better eggs. By coming together.
I remember the day the agreement was reached; in June 1999. Animal campaigners throughout Europe had gathered in Luxembourg. We eagerly awaited the outcome of EU negotiations on the future of cages. I will never forget the overwhelming sense of elation at hearing that barren cages would be banned! Standing on the steps of the European Council building, nervously hanging on to every word, as the UK Minister explained what had been agreed. An enduring feeling of privilege at being there on the day that history was made. An end in sight to the nightmare of the battery. The beginning of a better way.
It’s not a perfect law. Sadly, they rarely are. There was the painfully long “phase in” period of 12 long years for example. And then there was the clause that will allow so-called ‘enriched’ cages; bigger with a perch and stuff.
But so many more hens will be living lives of freedom. The rise of keeping hens free range, particularly in the UK, has been obvious.
And then there is the corporate trend. Some of the world’s biggest companies have recently decided to go cage-free on their eggs. McDonald’s in Europe, Sainsbury’s and Unilever to name but three. They have harnessed the food quality benefits of going cage-free; and responded to their customer’s aspirations for a better world on their plate. Millions of hens are living cage-free lives already as a result.
Back at home, our new hen nestles into a bed of straw. It’s the first time she has ever made a nest. She lays an egg. I can see the difference made to the life of this one sensitive creature. How wondrous then that, from 1st January next year, the tireless efforts of compassionate people everywhere will have touched the lives of so many millions more.
I cannot thank you enough; for being part of this campaign, for your support. Together, we are making a difference. There is still much more to do.