United Poultry Concerns September 29, 2003


Industry Also Nears Completion Of First Year Audits That Ensure Guidelines Are Being Met
United Egg Producers, September 17, 2003
Media Contact: Allie Steck allies@srcstory.com & Jennifer McGuire jenniferm@srcstory.com

Atlanta – The United Egg Producers’ (UEP) Scientific Advisory Committee has approved adding a new feed alternative for inducing a molt to the industry’s Animal Care Guidelines. Following three independent university studies, egg farmers now have the option of using a non-feed withdrawal to induce a molt, rather than the traditional practice of withholding feed for a short period of time [They've always had this option as well as the option to not force molt the birds at all]. Molting flocks results in 50 percent fewer hens needed to meet the nation’s demand for eggs, which means significantly fewer hens are handled, transported and slaughtered than if molting was not induced.

The UEP Scientific Advisory Committee, which established the Animal Care Guidelines and includes several the nation’s top scientists and academics, met this month and agreed upon the following statement: "The Scientific Advisory Committee says that non-feed withdrawal molt research projects have shown promise and at this time will recommend non-feed withdrawal programs as another option for inducing a molt. These programs should be used only if they meet or exceed the welfare standards previously established by the committee for feed withdrawal molts, including the standards for preparing the flock for the molt and for maximum molt mortality and hen weight loss."

According to Dr. Jeff Armstrong, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University and chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee: "The research on this new feed alternative has been conducted in three university settings, but the true test will come from field studies in the commercial egg industry. We are urging egg producers to give the non-feed withdrawal programs a try and report their conclusions back to us, because this is a subject we are continuing to study."

Poultry researchers and scientists have long recognized that molting is a normal process of chickens and other birds [see below]. In the wild, birds usually shed and renew old, worn plumage before the beginning of the cold weather and their migratory flights. In commercial egg production, molting is induced to cause all hens to molt at the same time. The molt has many benefits including the replacement of old feathers, reduction in body fat, rejuvenation of the hen’s reproductive cycle, and extending the hen’s life span.

Evolution of Animal Care Guidelines

In 1999, the UEP asked Dr. Jeff Armstrong to assemble a team of experts to review the scientific research and literature and provide recommendations. Dr. Armstrong established an independent, unpaid committee of academics, scientists and experts specializing in egg-laying hens that included representatives from the USDA and American Humane Association. The committee met initially in 1999 to review all scientific research available on the treatment of egg-laying hens, considering both the advantages and disadvantages of production systems and practices.

The UEP announced its Animal Care Guidelines in 2002 that are based upon the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee. They include science-based standards for cage space per hen, air quality, beak trimming, molting, handling and transportation.

Egg farmers that voluntarily implement the guidelines and pass an annual independent audit become an Animal Care Certified Company and can display the new Animal Care Certified logo on their egg cartons and products. More than 200 egg farmers currently participate in the program representing 84 percent of the nation’s total laying hens or 229 million layers.

Certified Farmers Keeping Their Promise

More than 80 percent of the farms participating in the Animal Care Certified program were independently audited this summer to ensure they are meeting the Animal Care Guidelines. The vast majority of these successfully passed the audit, showing overwhelming support for the animal welfare program. Only six farms did not pass the initial audit, primarily due to administrative and record keeping problems. They had 60 days to rectify the problems and were later re-audited, with every one passing the second audit.

The remaining 20 percent that have not yet been audited are mostly Southern California farms under strict biosecurity restrictions to stop the spread of Exotic Newcastle Disease. These farms have been unable to allow auditors and other nonessential visitors on the farms, but are expected to begin audits this month.

All farms participating in the Animal Care program are required to be audited annually to ensure their operations and production facilities meet the Animal Care Guidelines. The UEP approved the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS) and SES as authorized program auditors.

Any new farms entering the program must be audited first to prove they have met all current guidelines before they can carry the Animal Care Certification logo.

From: "The Animal Welfare and Food Safety Issues Associated With the Forced Molting of Laying Birds," United Poultry Concerns, 2003.


"Anorexia" means loss of appetite or refusal to eat, not food removal. Force-molted hens do not stop eating because they lose their appetite or don't want to eat, but because their food is taken away from them. A visitor to an egg farm in Pennsylvania wrote regarding the first day of a 7-day starvation program, "When the lights came on, the cackling and clucking rose to a cacophony, accompanied by the sound of thousands of beaks pecking on metal" (Geist, 1991, p. 3).

Naturally-molting hens do not go for days and weeks without eating, while a hen with a clutch of eggs leaves her nest for ten to twenty minutes each day until her chicks are ready to hatch, to forage for food, drink water, defecate, and exercise. Artificially-incubated eggs must be cooled for 15 to 20 minutes a day to match the time the hen is away from her nest. Mrosovsky and Sherry observe that

While it is presumably possible in theory that the hen is getting hungrier and hungrier as she sits on the nest, a much more elegant and safer solution to the problem would be to lower the set-point [for body fat] and avoid clashes between incubating and eating. Similarly, in the case of hibernators, the motivation to hibernate would have to be very strong to overcome the temptations of food lying right under the animal's nose. (Mrosovsky and Sherry, 1980:839)

Fasting is self-imposed behavior, not food removal. To fast means to abstain from all or certain foods. Fasting originates within an individual or a species as part of a larger purpose or activity that is meaningful to that individual or species, e.g., hibernation, migration, or hatching chicks. A brooding hen is engaged in normal species behavior that is meaningful for her and has no resemblance to the frightening experience of being arbitrarily deprived of food. Mrosovsky and Sherry summarize that when animals fast in nature, fasting is part of their being "engaged in other important activities that compete with feeding" and that evidence shows fasting to be “physiologically different from starvation" (p. 840).

Whereas a brooding hen and a naturally-molting hen are fully intent upon “other important activities that compete with feeding," the hen being starved in confinement has been stripped, without compensation, of her only pleasure, virtually her only activity in confinement, which is eating. Moreover, and most significantly, animals fasting in nature do not generally suffer from immune system breakdown and disease, whereas force-molted hens do. In force-molted hens, cellular immunity is “significantly depressed during food deprivation," and SE infection and transmission are increased (Holt, 1992:173).



United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

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