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Caged bird rearing poses health risks to humans

The holding structure where Kasendi Mutinda rears over 500 layers at Ngengeka village in Kitui county. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

A study has revealed an increase in the number of Kenyan farmers rearing chicken in cages even as other countries phase out the system due to human health and animal welfare issues.

A report released on Monday by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) revealed that 57 per cent of farmers involved in commercial chicken rearing had adopted battery cage system.

The method involves confining birds in small cages where movement is restricted. The system is commercially productive since many chicken are kept within a small space.

However, there is intense use of artificial hormones and antibiotics, which pose health risks to consumers of chicken products.

Data by the European Food Safety Authority collected from more than 3,000 farms in EU member states established Salmonella Enteritidis to be five times more likely to be found in cage systems compared to free-range systems. The bacterial disease affects the intestinal linings of human beings.

Because of the health issues, battery cage system has been banned in the European Union and the United Kingdom. Canada and New Zealand are the latest countries to phase out the system after scientific reports revealed it relies on heavy use of chemicals that affects product consumers.

Kenya does not have laws to regulate the practice meaning that farmers are free to rear chicken in cages.

The Animal Welfare and Protection Bill, 2019 geared towards addressing cruelty of animals is yet to be enacted into law.

The Bill seeks to push for “an acknowledgement and the cognizance that animals are sentient and are capable of experiencing negative and positive complex emotions including grief, empathy, pain and suffering”.

The study titled, “Report on Status of Battery Caged System in Kenya” showed that the high demand for chicken meat and eggs was pushing farmers into a system that promotes massive production within a limited space.

As a result, chicken were subjected to cruelty as they struggle to survive within the small space. “Severe confinement restricts physical movement leading to metabolic disorders, including cage osteoporosis and liver damage,” the report indicates.

According to the study, Migori, Bungoma, Nyeri, Uasin Gishu, Isiolo, Busia, Kericho, Bomet, Trans Nzoia and Kisumu counties had adopted battery cage system. Other counties are Marsabit, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Lamu, Kisii, Narok, Machakos, Muranga, Taita Taveta, Meru, Embu, Homa Bay, Nyamira and Laikipia.

But a campaign to have laws enacted and the battery cage system banned in Kenya has started with national awareness campaigns being launched on Monday.

ANAW, Open Wing Alliance, Kenya Pigs and Poultry Veterinary Association, Farm Animals Voice and representatives from county governments vowed to spearhead campaigns to push the national government to enact laws to ban caged farming system.

“When chicken are confined to cramped quarters and cages, where they are typically stressed, and often kept alive only by the routine administration of antibiotics fed to them, this causes bacterial resistance to antibiotics and leads to the creation of the super bugs now invading our hospitals,” said ANAW Executive Director Josphat Ngonyo.

Lead researcher at ANAW, Victor Yamo, said the study conducted in six months was aimed at demonstrating to the government the need to ban the battery cage system and encourage farmers to use other methods.

“The cage system curtails the welfare of these birds. At the end of the day the birds are not in a position to actually express their normal behaviour,” Yamo said.

Carrefour has started campaigns against battery system and will not be purchasing chicken products from farmers involved in the same.

Not understood well

“We have started engaging farmers for cage-free system because of the quality of products from the system. Soon, you will see such products in our market,” said David Obinda, the Country Quality and Hygiene Manager at Carrefour during the launch of the report.

Acting Director of Veterinary Services Mwangi Kiai said government had not documented the negative effects of battery caged systems, adding that there were plans to sensitise farmers to adopt other approaches.

“Battery cage was not understood well at first. It was thought to be an advancement of technology in chicken rearing. Now things have changed and farmers should adopt other systems,” Kiai said.

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