Starving hens now an offence

Animal Welfare Board says practice a violation of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act

By Nayani Nasa
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Hens are starved to speed up molting--a natural process of feather loss and re-growth that can take several months--in order to regulate egg laying. But now this practice has been declared an offence.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) has ordered all poultry farms across the country to discontinue the practice immediately as it is a violation of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960.

Following the order, states like Nagaland, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Goa and Uttarakhand, have banned the practice. Other governments, like of Chandigarh, have asked state veterinary officers and non-profits like Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and People for Animals to inspect all poultry farms to ensure compliance of the order.

The AWBI's order in March came after Humane Society of India (HSI)-- a non-profit working for animal welfare--launched a campaign against the cruel practice. Starvation-forced molting is widely practiced in egg production facilities throughout India. Under the process, egg-laying hens are deprived of food for up to 14 days and water for two or more days. This results in hens laying larger eggs with stronger shells.

But a study by HSI shows that the stress of feed deprivation, while effective in inducing a molt and allowing an adequate reproductive rest period for the hen, may cause deleterious effects on the bird such as greater intestinal colonisation by Salmonella enterica leading to salmonellosis in humans. This is a serious food safety concern. The study says that Salmonella infect the ovaries of hens, and eggs from these infected birds are laid with the bacteria inside. Previous research has shown that Salmonella can survive cooking and cause food poisoning. It also causes chronic joint inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome in children.

Poultry owners though claim they do not follow the starvation regime. “Forced starvation of hens does not help as the produced eggs will not be good for consumption. If some poultry owner is exercising such practice, it has to be stopped,” says Jogender Kumar, owner of a poultry farm in Sonepat. A spokesperson of Venkateshwara Hatcheries, in Pune says, “One shed in a poultry farms houses at least 100,000 hens, of which few will be in their molt regime at one time while others can normally lay eggs. Hence, there is no need to starve those hens that are undergoing their molt regime.”

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