The Cruel Last Day of Hens: Being left for a long time at a slaughterhouse
Many hens in Japan have a short miserable life in a battery cage. The result of an investigation conducted by the Animal Rights Center shows their condition is much crueler than the center had expected.
After hens are used as egg-laying machines for one or two years, they are called waste chickens or mature chickens. They are slaughtered for meat. The meat is used for canned meat products, processed food, frozen food, ground meat, chicken extract, and chicken ham. Their big, but unhealthily white-color bent combs are used for hyaluronic acid products and moisturizing products. It means many people unknowingly eat their meat and apply their combs on their faces.
The value of a waste chicken is very low. In fact, the cost for slaughtering is higher than the value of the chicken. Therefore, they are treated like “waste.”
When the door of a battery cage is finally opened, the hens are grabbed by their legs, wings, or heads, and thrown into a container. Such violent treatment often injures them resulting in such injuries as broken bones, dislocation, and bruises. The hens have no choice but to endure the pain for a long time in the container while being transported to a slaughterhouse.
At a slaughterhouse, the hens are again left as they are to suffer for a long time.
The First Visit in a Slaughterhouse
The carry-in work started in the morning and continued until early afternoon. At 3:00 pm, the slaughtering process line stopped, and many hens which had not been killed were left overnight as they were in small containers.
The Second Visit in a Slaughterhouse
Many hens are again left overnight as they were in small containers. The conditions were very cruel, hot and humid. In the containers there was a white bubbly liquid: the mixture of broken eggs, excrement, urine, and maggots.
The Third Visit in a Slaughterhouse
Many hens are again left overnight as they were in small containers. One hen died, and the rest of the chickens tried to stay as far away as possible from the dead chicken.
The Fourth Visit in a Slaughterhouse
When the slaughtering work of the day was over, there were still many containers with live hens left. Many of the containers were still in a truck.
The Fifth Visit in a Slaughterhouse
Similar to the previous days, there were many stacked containers left.
After receiving information from a whistle-blower, the Animal Rights Center investigated six slaughterhouses in the Kanto Region and one in Fukuoka. The results of the investigation showed hens jammed into a container are left as they are overnight at all of the slaughterhouses.
During a budget committee meeting held in February 23, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries admitted the ministry has been aware of the condition in slaughterhouses. The ministry claims that it only happens during the busy season. However, every time we visited slaughterhouses at night, hens were suffering in this horrible condition. Therefore, we believe that most slaughterhouses almost always leave hens in this cruel condition.
After the committee meeting, we held another investigation in March, 2018. No improvement was observed.
Many hens are jammed in the cages. The eggs and excrement of the hens in the upper cages fall and break on the hens below. In summer, maggots breed in the broken eggs and excrement on the floor.
Many of the hens are dead. They died during the inhumane transportation time or at the slaughterhouse. The height of the cage is too low for the hens to stretch their necks. Some of them cannot move their body at all because they are crushed under the weight of other chickens. There are legs swinging loose. Their broken bones will not be treated. The hens are kept in such conditions at more than 17 slaughterhouses. There is no drinking water. This is the last day of the hens. There is no mercy. There is no respect.
- The height of the container is too low. Hens cannot stretch their necks.
- Because of the packed conditions, some hens cannot move their bodies.
- Some hens are in the same position as when they were thrown into the containers.
- Some hens are buried under the bodies of other hens.
- In summer, they spend many hours in extremely hot conditions. In winter, there is no heater for them.
- Drinking water is not provided. Medical treatment is not given to injured hens.
- Sometimes, they are attached by wild animals.
- Still living hens are left along with dead hens in the same containers.
- There is high risk of bacterial infections.
- Some hens are covered with broken eggs.
- Some hens are covered with excrement.
- In summer, the excrement and eggs are rotten, and maggots grow.
- There is no protection from wild animals, birds, and insects.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries revealed in the Food Safety Risk Management Meeting held in February, 2018, that campylobacter and other kinds of bacteria are detected in slaughterhouses. Such bacteria contamination worsens after long hours of unsanitary conditions.衛生面でも以下の弊害がある。
This is not something that happens at slaughterhouses for chickens used for meat, i.e. broiler chickens.
It’s because it wouldn’t be profitable for companies to treat broiler chickens in this way.
Also, there is a whole process from raising to slaughtering in the system for broiler chickens while there is no such process in place for egg hens. That is, they have a process from raising chickens to production of eggs in the system, but nothing about culled chickens because it’s a separate line.
That said, there’s no excuse to say it’s impossible to have a process for 1 billion egg hens in place when it is possible to process 6 billion broiler chickens to slaughter annually.
If farmers and slaughterhouses communicated better, it would be possible to improve the current situation.
It’s the slaughterhouses that capture and transport egg hens, with a few exceptions in which some farmers actually capture their hens.
For slaughterhouses that accept payment for slaughtering, it is hard to say “no” if they are asked to receive hens. It’s also impossible for slaughterhouses to predict the number of hens.
Many egg hen farmers practice “all-in-all-out” methods, so they don’t leave any birds behind.
Different methods for broiler chickens and egg hens for transportation
The broiler chickens are usually caught at night and don’t have to wait too long to get slaughtered.
On the other hand, egg hens are sometimes caught in the morning, their transportation time is way too long, and they are often left alone overnight before getting slaughtered the next day.
It’s because these birds are “waste” for egg farmers that require feeding, but are not profitable at all. It’s also costly to get rid of them since they have to pay to discard them.
Egg hens whose production rates dropped are just “industry waste” for many farmers.
Another point that is different for egg hens from broiler chickens is that there aren’t many slaughterhouses for culled chickens and certain farmers don’t even have access to such slaughterhouses, although the egg farmers are all around Japan. On the other hand, broiler chicken farmers exist around the slaughterhouses, unlike the situation for egg farmers.
So it’s hard to manage the collection of these birds.
Hens in Yamanashi or Kanagawa prefecture have to be transported to Gunma prefecture to get slaughtered.
In Tohoku, only Aomori prefecture has slaughterhouses so these hens in the Tohoku area must be transported to slaughterhouses in Aomori or ones in Ibaragi.
Meanwhile, there are 4 slaughterhouses in Ibaragi.
Concentration of slaughterhouses exists in the Chugoku area, too.
Only Okayama prefecture has slaughterhouses to which Yamaguchi or Tottori prefecture must transport their hens.
In contrast, there is none in Shikoku.
It’s inevitable to have long transportation times for culled chickens.
During the transportation, hens have no access to sanitation or welfare.
When transporters collect hens at a massive farm, they gather tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of birds at once. Sometimes they have to fit these birds in a limited numbers of trucks.
In fact, they tend to over-capacitate the number of birds because it would be too far to send another truck.
Isn’t this an order error on farmers’ end? Because they need to provide the precise number of culled chickens to these transporters, then, the slaughterhouse that received the order can appoint the date and time accordingly.
For small farmers, it’s not uncommon for only one transporter to visit multiple farmers to collect hens.
This is a common practice for old farmers who have only 1 or 2 racks of battery cages or farmers who practice free-range or cage-free.
Sometimes, the transporters go to Tohoku, then return to Kanto.
Transportation itself can half-kill these birds.
The difficulty is perhaps understandable, but still, this must stop.
Maybe it is a good idea for small farmers to consider transporting or slaughtering their own birds.
Animal welfare codes set by the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) stipulate that vendors ought to plan in a way so that birds are not deprived of water at the premises for longer than 12 hours.
* Excerpts below
Terrestrial Animal Health Code by OIE
Animal Welfare and Slaughter of Animals
Provisions relevant to animals delivered in containers
Animals which have been transported in containers should be slaughtered as soon as possible; mammals and ratites which are not taken directly upon arrival to the place of slaughter should have drinking water available to them from appropriate facilities at all times. Delivery of poultry for slaughter should be scheduled such that they are not deprived of water at the premises for longer than 12 hours. Animals which have not been slaughtered within 12 hours of their arrival should be fed, and should subsequently be given moderate amounts of food at appropriate intervals.
Care of animals in lairages
Animals in lairages should be cared for in accordance with the following recommendations:
1. As far as possible, established groups of animals should be kept together and each animal should have enough space to stand up, lie down and turn around. Animals hostile to each other should be separated.
5. Suitable drinking water should be available to the animals on their arrival and at all times to animals in lairages unless they are to be slaughtered without delay.
6. Waiting time should be minimised and should not exceed 12 hours. If animals are not to be slaughtered within this period, suitable feed should be available to the animals on arrival and at intervals appropriate to the species. Unweaned animals should be slaughtered as soon as possible.
7. In order to prevent heat stress, animals subjected to high temperatures, particularly pigs and poultry, should be cooled by the use of water sprays, fans or other suitable means. However, the potential for water sprays to reduce the ability of animals to thermoregulate (especially poultry) should be considered in any decision to use water sprays. The risk of animals being exposed to very cold temperatures or sudden extreme temperature changes should also be considered.
13. Poultry awaiting slaughter should be protected from adverse weather conditions and provided with adequate ventilation.
14. Poultry in transport containers should be examined at the time of arrival. Containers should be stacked with sufficient space between the stacks to facilitate inspection of birds and air movement.
15. Forced ventilation or other cooling systems may be necessary under certain conditions to avoid buildup of temperature and humidity. Temperature and humidity should be monitored at appropriate intervals.
The Act is not practically applied at the moment because it’s been lightly regarded.
However, the practice also violates “Act on Welfare and Management of Animals.“
A person who has destroyed or injured, without reason, a protected animal shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than one year or a fine of not more than one million yen.
The Animal Rights Center has been working towards a change to improve the situation for egg hens by spreading the word to the public including overseas.
We ask questions to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) at the Budget Committee.
We write articles for magazines and media on the Internet.
With these done, it is still hard to say the situation has improved.
That said, the Livestock Production Promotion Division Manager of Livestock Industry Department from Agricultural Production Bureau and the Manager of Meat and Egg Division at the MAFF sent a notice to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, the Ministry of Environment, and the Officers of each Regional Agricultural Administration Office to request improvement recently.
Upon the receipt of this notice, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare sent a notice to Directors of Responsible Public Health Division (Bureau) in Each Prefecture. So did the Ministry of Environment to the Animal Welfare and Management Office.
It is significant that the government gave notice to improve the situation.
We expect that rapid measurement for such improvements will be taken.
That said, there are some obstacles as already mentioned. Efforts by slaughterhouses, chicken farms, or transporters cannot be solely relied upon to bring about change.
Consumers should also be involved.
In order to improve, they will need to accept the price changes for eggs or meat.
It is not too hard and will only be a small change. It may be just so tiny consumers may not even notice.
However, consumers should be aware of this issue, and let retailers, producers, the government, and local legislations know that they are willing to pay extra.
Additionally, we should raise our voice to call for animal welfare for production process of eggs, processed chicken food such as canned grilled chicken, frozen fried chicken, processed food containing chicken, chicken balls, and chicken broth, to supermarkets and corporations.
Lastly, we should never buy products that don’t take animal welfare into account.
As mentioned in the separate article regarding 500,000 chickens being boiled alive at slaughterhouses, this issue regarding overnight abandonment, long transportation, and slaughtering of chickens are related to egg production and processed chicken food.
In most cases, free-range egg laying hens and cage-free egg laying hens end up being slaughtered in the same process, except for those slaughtered in-house, or those practicing life-long raising.)
Animal welfare should be exercised for animals from the day they are born to their death.
It is not acceptable to make hens produce eggs everyday, to be exploited, and to give such miserable and agonizing last days to them.
The Animal Rights Center will continue to investigate, monitor, and make suggestions for improvements.
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Translation:Asako Kajiura / Seika K
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