Switzerland: Filmed, chicken farms reveal atrocious conditions

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Laying hens, whose eggs are sold in supermarkets, cannibalize each other in farms in Aargau and Fribourg. The phenomenon is marked at Easter.

The images are sickening and are especially painful to see. Thousands of hens are crowded into a narrow, dark and poorly ventilated chicken coop. The animals have raw wounds or sores on their legs, are often featherless, and lie on the ground, apathetic or even dead. The pictures come from videos shot on two large laying hen farms in the cantons of Aargau and Fribourg. Their eggs would be sold under the label “free-range farming” at Migros, Volg or Landi.

The videos were uploaded by animal rights organization Tier im Fokus (TIF). The NGO regularly receives similar images, she said on Sunday. “Feather pecking and cannibalism are still unresolved problems in the egg industry,” says Tobias Sennhauser, president of TIF.

Very far from advertising

According to him, hens can lose so much blood that they die. Stress would be the cause. “Sick and injured hens should be immediately separated from the flock and treated,” he explains. “But they are always abandoned to their fate, according to him. Indeed, up to 18,000 laying hens live in intensive farming. With so many animals, sick or injured individuals are mostly overlooked, as farmers have no time to care for their poultry.

We are therefore very far from the idyllic image sold by advertising of chickens frolicking freely in a meadow against a backdrop of Swiss countryside. Images that work with consumers since boosted by demand, the production of Swiss eggs increased by 7.7% last year. A particularly marked increase for outdoor breeding (+185%) and organic poultry farming (+107%).

Especially at Easter

And it is especially at Easter that things go wrong in the henhouses, underlines the association Tier im Fokus. Indeed, to meet the high demand, far too many laying hens are placed on farms, they explain. But as soon as the party is over, traders find themselves with their eggs on their hands. As a result, to sell off stocks, the Confederation subsidizes large retailers so that they can offer eggs on sale. This is part of so-called “market relief” measures.

An approach that Tobias Sennhauser sharply criticizes. “It is unacceptable that the consumption of eggs is stimulated by the state,” he claims. Tier im Fokus therefore asks, in a petition addressed to the National Council, that these measures be abolished. Instead of selling off eggs by the state, consumption must drop, says the association. This calls for smaller farms so that farmers can properly care for their poultry.

The incriminated Aargau company reacted on Sunday after the publication of the Tier im Fokus images. The images are not beautiful for anyone, say its two owners. The poor condition of the hens is explained by an illness of the animals which occurred last summer due to the cold and wet weather, according to them. They ensure that sick or dead gallinaceans are always separated from others and disposed of in accordance with the requirements of animal protection law.

According to them, the discovery on the images of their breeding of a dead hen on the ground would be due to the fact that the images were taken at night and that suddenly its corpse had not yet been removed. They still ensure that their exploitation, labeled, is the subject of regular unannounced checks. “So far, there have been no complaints or violations,” they note.

(cht)

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