by Bruce Kent
Not long ago I signed a petition to go to the prime minister opposing
the battery cage system of keeping egg laying chickens. Who wouldn't? We
have no right to eat eggs if the only way of getting hold of them is to
shove some of God's creatures into wire boxes for their lives and to
deny them open air and free movement. The poor wretched chickens can't
even stretch their wings. I hope the new Vatican catechism will put
battery egg production right into the mortal sin category.
But that's by the way. Some weeks after signing the petition I got a
letter from MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) on behalf
of the prime minister. No doubt every other anti-battery petition
signatory got the same letter as well. It is a gem. The script writers
for Yes Minister must have been let loose on it.
The gist is that the problem is a complicated one, other ways of
keeping chickens also have their risks, the European Community is really
to blame, etcetera, etcetera. MAFF agreed that the Agriculture Committee
of the House of Commons wanted a minimum area for adult birds of not
less than 750 sq.cm (less than one foot square) but that "the most that
could be achieved was 450 sq.cm." Try that on your ruler - it's about
eight and a half inches square!
But the real gem is at the end. MAFF must have been sent down the
road to the MOD to pick up a few lines in propaganda. "A unilateral ban
on battery cages in this country would do nothing to help the welfare of
battery hens in the rest of the community. . ."
Really? Has anyone asked British hens how they feel about that? Can
we expect cautious statements from the hierarchy on the value of
multilateral battery negotiations and the danger of unilateral action?
Would the battery balance which has kept the peace for 40 years be
upset? Or am I getting my issues confused? I hope not. Putting a chicken
in a box of 450 sq.cm is a sin whoever else does it anywhere and someone
ought to say so.
From the Catholic Herald dated 27th July, 1990.