Report No. 269
House-keeping of Layers and Broilers
3.1 According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, India is the third largest producer of eggs in the world producing more than 65 billion eggs.29 The industry in India has evolved from Backyard Poultry farming in 1950-60's, high platform cages in 1995 to high capacity farms with low compartmentalization, automated feeding techniques and environmentally controlled housing by 2011.30
3.2 This evolution in layer farming techniques has led to varied layers of farming across the country. The poultry industry has turned lucrative and highly competitive. The economic factors of the industry demand higher production at lower costs without compromising the consumer quality standards. The scale and intensity of production is substantially higher in the commercial and industrial sectors than in backyard farming. Advantages are derived by the poultry industry from economies of large scale production which provides for specialisation and division of labour at different stages in the production process, leading to automation of operations and labour-cost savings.31
3.3 In contrast, backyard poultry farming in rural areas still follow the traditional way of farming methods. This makes the production ineffective as it exposes the birds to predators and renders them prone to diseases.32 Further, lack of constant optimal environment leads to low hatchability among the birds. Thus, the housing conditions in poultry farming have a significant impact over the production.
In order to achieve the maximum production, low cost caging techniques even at the cost of consumer quality standards are rampantly in use. The present trend in the market indicates that small houses are being discarded for larger and more mechanised houses for egg production.33 The birds are maintained in hen houses without any contact with other flocks and other wildlife. Consequently, it reduces the immunity of the birds making bio-security a critical factor in egg production.
3.4 The hens used for the production of eggs in the egg industry are reared in small, barren wire cages called "battery cages", a name given due to the arrangement of cages placed side by side. The battery cages are so small that the animals are unable to stand up straight or spread their wings without touching the sides of the cage or other hens or turning in a complete circle without any impediment. The floor space available to each hen is approximately 623.7 cm2 which is almost the area of a sheet of A4 size paper. The most common cages hold 5-10 birds. A typical egg farm in our country contains thousands of cages with tens of thousands of birds, stacked multiple tiers high, lined in multiple rows.
3.5 This method of stocking the hens, leads to sore feet, minor and major abrasions, broken bones and other bodily injuries to the birds. It also increases the risk of diseases in the flock.34 The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has forwarded information on the conditions of poultry in India and has addressed various issues relating thereto. The Commission has taken into consideration the same while formulating the 'Draft Rules'.
In addition, climatic conditions such as temperature and humidity play an important role in attaining maximum production. Higher temperatures would lead to low productivity therefore the birds are usually kept at constant temperatures in poultry farms in India. The downside to this is that the birds would be more susceptible to diseases even with small changes in climatic conditions, affecting the chances of their survival. Consequently, they are fed antibiotics to boost immunity.
3.6 With a view to curtail the cruel practices of confining birds in battery cages, it is necessary to have a distinction between the produce obtained from healthy farming of hens in cage free environment and the produce obtained from battery cage farming. Towards this end, certification by the Animal Husbandry Departments of the States, recognising that the poultry farms follow the practice of cage free egg farming, is desirable. This would enable the consumer to select the produce obtained from healthy farming and will result in discouraging battery cage farming.
3.7 It is also important that the feed used must be nutrient rich and devoid of antibiotics as it affects the consumer food quality standard which is required to be maintained across countries. There are no statutory regulations, at present to prescribe the standard, quality and quantity of food for poultry in India which leads to rampant use of antibiotics in the poultry feed.
3.8 In response to the notice inviting suggestions on the issue, the Law Commission has received a large number of responses. As per the response received from the Tata Memorial Centre, Bombay, many Indians suffer from antibiotic resistance. The Centre claims that it is proven that non-therapeutic antibiotics given to poultry cause such resistance and that such antibiotics are given to poultry because their living conditions are cramped and unhygienic.
It further says that with more open, cleaner and ventilated living space the animals are less likely to need these constant antibiotics making their eggs and meat safer for human consumption. The views expressed hereinabove stand fully supported by various writings by experts such as Tollefson, Altekruse and Potter.35
3.9 In this regard, the Central Government in the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries has also issued advisory/instructions to the Department of Animal Husbandry of all the States and Union Territories on 3rd June, 2014 observing that:
"2. antibiotics are also used as feed premix for regular feeding in poultry and animals used for meat, milk and egg production. This kind of regular feeding of antibiotics has serious consequences on human being since residues of antibiotics may accumulate in meat, milk and eggs. Consumption of antibiotic contaminated meat, milk and eggs may develop antibiotic resistance in both human being and animals. This type of use of antibiotics should be discouraged and in this regard, the farmers/ industries and feed manufacturers should be advised/educated on not to use antibiotics for animal feeding.
3. Further, the use of hormones as growth promoters used in food producing animals should also be stopped since it has also adverse effect on human and animal life". The Central Government has asked all the State Governments and Union Territories to advise all the State Veterinarians, feed manufacturers and also the persons involved in treatment of animal for judicious use of antibiotics and hormones for the treatment of ailing food producing animals.
3.10 The Animal Welfare Board of India, vide letter dated 16.02.2012, explained/clarified that confining hens in battery cages violates provisions of section 11(1)(e) of PCA Act. The relevant part of the letter reads:
"Considering the issue of well-being of egg laying birds as well as food safety, you may be aware that the EU has decided to phase out battery cages for egg laying hens with effect from 1 January, 2012. These directives apply to all 27 EU member states; however, some European countries have preferred to adopt even stricter guidelines for farm animal protection. For instance in Switzerland, battery cages have been prohibited since 1992.
The AWBI advises the Government of India and the State Governments to issue suitable directions to poultry farmers to prohibit the use of battery cages in egg production, so that poultry farms keeping egg laying hens adhere to the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 and not confine birds in cages. The existing cage facilities be phased out within the next 5 years i.e.2017. Central and State Governments must encourage animal welfare and environment sustainability within the Indian food sector by promoting production systems that adhere to modern standards for animal welfare (as enshrined by the Five Freedoms) and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act 1960"