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State Seeks to End Feed Withdrawal for Hens

by 5m Editor
29 March 2011, at 8:45am

MAHARASHTRA, INDIA - An animal welfare committee is seeking an end to the practice of starving hens as a means to forced moulting.

In Pune, the committee to monitor animal welfare laws in Maharashtra has directed the state department of animal husbandry, dairy development and fisheries (DAHDF) to ensure that all owners of egg-laying poultry farm and integrators discontinue the use of starvation to force egg-laying hens into a moult phase. Times of India reports that the committee, appointed by the Bombay High Court in 2005, has in its letter instructed the DAHDF to conduct periodic and surprise inspections at egg farms to check for adherence to the directive.

Rajendra K. Joshi, convenor of the Committee to Monitor Animal Welfare Laws in Maharashtra, said: "On March 9, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) ordered all poultry farms to immediately discontinue starvation force moult regimes, stating that the practice is in violation of India's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and is a punishable offence. This practice involves starving the hens in order to remove excess fat, which leads to healthier and more palatable meat. When AWBI's notice was brought to our attention, we wrote a letter to the DAHDF, asking them to issue instructions to all poultry units in the state registered with them to discontinue this practice."

Starvation force moulting, practised on egg production facilities throughout India, deprives egg laying hens of food, in order to rejuvenate their reproductive tracts and stimulate additional cycles of egg production.

N.G. Jayasimha, manager of Humane Society International's (HSI) factory farming campaign in India, said: "Under the starvation force moulting regimes, feed is often withheld for up to 14 days and may be combined with one to two days of water deprivation. During a force moult, hens suffer greatly and may lose up to 35 per cent of their body weight. This practice of feed withdrawal has been widely questioned throughout the world and is already prohibited in Australia and the European Union, and prohibited in the US by the egg industry's animal husbandry programme." He added that forced starvation moulting dramatically increases the risk of hens laying Salmonella-infected eggs.

Mr Joshi said the committee has animal welfare officers across the state who would visit the poultry farms and ensure that the directive is carried out. "In addition, we have also instructed the DAHDF to conduct periodic inspections at poultry units. If they find that the directive is not implemented by the farm owners, it would lead to penal action initiated against such units under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960," he said.

However, a few poultry owners who spoke to Times of India claimed that while they were not following the starvation regime, there could be some establishments that deprived hens of food.

Ibrahim Karim, partner of a poultry farm, said: "Forced starvation of hens does not help as the produced eggs will be of low quality and not good for consumption. If some poultry owner is exercising such practice, it has to be stopped."

Ramesh Moze, who runs a poultry firm at Lohgaon, said: "One shed of poultry bears at least one lakh [100,000] hens, of which few will be in their moult regime at one time. Hence, there is no need to starve only those hens and not others as they are laying eggs. Starvation would result into hens getting weaker and may attract disease infection, which would be greater threat to the poultry."

Mr Moze also maintained that a chick is bought at 20 rupees, and till its maturity, poultry owner feeds them. If chicken can be fed in early days, then there should not be any problem for the owners to feed them for some time, when they are not laying eggs.