The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is urging the next UK government to pledge to ban cages for hens and pigs within its first 100 days in office.

About 30% of the UK’s hens and 60% of adult female pigs (sows) are in cages, the animal welfare charity said.

A survey commissioned by the RSPCA and carried out by the Social Market Foundation found that 96% of people are against pigs being kept in farrowing crates and 94% are against hens being kept in cages.

RSPCA Assured, the RSPCA’s farmed animal welfare assurance scheme which does not allow cages, also revealed a fifth of people (21%) think that hens are no longer kept in cages.

The RSPCA said 10 million hens spend their entire lives in cages with roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper allocated to each bird and 200,000 sows are put in farrowing crates just before giving birth and for around four weeks after their piglets are born.

These metal crates are so small that the sows can’t even turn around, the charity said.

‘Outdated and cruel’

Chief executive of the RSPCA, Chris Sherwood, said keeping laying hens and pigs in cages is an “outdated and cruel practice” which restricts their movement and does not allow the animals to express their natural behaviours. 

“These inhumane systems cannot be the future of British farming. During their lives, many of these animals won’t have the freedom to move properly,” he said.

“This year, the Scottish government launched a consultation to end the use of cages and we believe the UK government should follow and show they are also committed to making farm animal welfare a top priority. 

“Intensive farming is the biggest animal welfare issue facing the country today and we want to see an end to intensive, lower welfare farming completely.

“As a first step, we are now calling on the next UK government to listen to the public to pledge to ban cages in England in their first 100 days in office.”

Enriched cages for egg-laying hens only provide each bird with a small space, roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper, the RSPCA said.

Conventional battery cages were banned in Europe in 2012 but these were  replaced with enriched cages which only offer a limited space of around 750cm squared per bird.

“Farm animal welfare has been an integral part of our rich history over the last 200 years, from creating the first ever animal welfare law to protect cattle from cruelty right up until last month when live exports were finally banned in Great Britain after more than 50 years of campaigning,” Sherwood said.

“Animals are arguably facing some of the biggest challenges of the past two centuries as climate change, loss of wildlife, cost of living and the pandemic take their toll.

“The growth of industrial farming presents one of the most pressing threats to animals, with the scale of suffering of chickens reared for their meat, who live often unbearable lives, presenting the single biggest animal welfare issue in this country and around the world.

“We know we have a long way to go but we will continue to speak up for every kind of animal and raise standards to improve the lives of every farm animal now and in the future and we urge the next government to do the same.”