Sir: News reports about the nuns of Our Lady of the Passion,
Daventry, Northants, who are opposing the destruction of their
battery hens by the Ministry of Agriculture, have, it seems to me,
highlighted a double scandal.
The practice of keeping battery hens - or battery calves or other
animals unnaturally exploited to gratify human greed - is itself a
disgrace to our so-called civilisation. That religious should lend
themselves to such a practice is hardly thinkable. But when there is
the slightest suspicion that these unnaturally confined birds may
(not surprisingly) have produced infected eggs (or even one infected
egg) to endanger human life. . .
Is it too much to hope that one day the Ministry of Agriculture
will ban all battery hen establishments and other vicious factory
methods from farming and encourage free-range and humane projects in
the rearing of livestock?
(Sr) M. Matthew Morgan OP
Sir: Sr Matthew Morgan Op (Letters, 21 October) highlights "a
double scandal" in the practice of nuns keeping battery hens for
In April 1986 the late Bishop Agnellus Andrew OFM warned the
Bishops' Conference of England and Wales of the scandal caused by
lack of action in such matters by the Catholic hierarchy and
appealed to them for greater awareness of their responsibilities as
stewards of God's creatures. Afterwards, at least three bishops
promised him a new look at related evidence sitting on their desks.
Repeatedly since Edwina Currie's salmonella statement last year
we in Britain, and our Church leaders, have seen television evidence
of the barren and cramped living conditions endured by some of the
40 million chickens farmed intensively for our sustenance. Battery
cages are being phased out in Switzerland, yet in Britain many of us
are still too ashamed to condemn or demand action for fear of
association with unsavoury extremists (who would not be there had we
The Food Programme (Radio 4, 13 October) reported that 30
per cent of battery hens suffer broken bones "which must be very
painful." Their facts were taken from a study paid for by the
Ministry of Agriculture and published in the journal of British
Poultry Science. One of the co-authors was Dr Neville Gregory of
the Government's Institute of Food Research in Bristol.
Research in Denmark six years ago revealed the inevitability of
broken bones because lack of exercise in intensively crammed
conditions causes hens to have soft bones. "Even with extreme care
15 per cent of them, in other words 6-7 million birds, will suffer
the agony of broken bones", says Professor Donald Broome, who has
the Chair of Animal Husbandry at Cambridge.
Transport to slaughter creates many broken bones. It may be 24
hours before the birds are stunned and plucked mechanically.
Television has shown turkeys hanging alive, shackled upside down for
as long as six minutes like mailbags on slowly moving rails. Success
by them in avoiding the stunning process brings the possibility of
having their feathers stripped off while still alive. Viewers have
seen hens pulled by their legs through narrow access apertures of
battery cages and then stuffed manually into transport cages like
non-sentient fillings for pillow cases.
As an aid to identifying, out of respect for the individual, with
life in a battery cage, take a ruler and measure 400 centimetres. To
improve living conditions, the Farm Animal Welfare Council
pleads for a minimum 600 sq. cm. of floor space for each bird. This
still denies adequate head space and ability to flap wings - a
necessary exercise for building stronger bones. The European
Community, says Derek Cooper, presenter of the Food Programme,
requires 450 sq. cm. - less than the size of a foolscap sheet of
paper; less than the size of three egg cartons placed side by side;
or less in length than just 15 small communion hosts.
The problem lies in the vast quantities of animals now used in
intensive production methods. Economic viability is paramount. If
the Catholic hierarchy threw their weight against intensive farming
countrywide, their opposition would constitute a considerable
deterrent and remove any implication that they were party to the
As the then Bishop of Northampton, Francis Thomas, wrote to the
Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare on 19 October 1987,
"clearly there are moral issues here". In spite of this, two years
later nuns have still till now been allowed to exploit God's
creatures for personal income.
In Westminster Cathedral on 7 October 1984 Bishop Agnellus
pleaded for theologians and philosophers to give more profound
reflection to questions concerning animals. He asked: "Has perhaps
the time come for a charter for the defence and protection of the
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
(The following portion was edited for length but reproduced in
the December 1989 edition of The Ark, journal of the Catholic
Study Circle for Animal Welfare of which Anne Dalton was
Sadly, however, the greatest scandal of all must be charged to
our authorities in the Catholic Church who permit such suffering in
spite of strong evidence. As Catholics we all become blameworthy for
so long as we allow our religious to pursue such "unthinkable
practices". We now read that the Daventry nuns intend changing from
chickens to chocolates as a source of income, following government
and activist pressure.
THIS PRESSURE SHOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN TO COME FROM OUR CHURCH
Compassion requires imagination and an ability to identify, in
humility, with the world of another so different from our own. "At
its profound level it is the giving of self in love", were the
words Bishop Agnellus Andrew O.F.M. drafted into the 1971 Vatican
Pastoral Instruction on Communications (paragraph 11), which refers
to Christ's ability to identify with the lives of others and
to "speak out of the predicament of their time."
Paragraph 14 of the same accredited Instruction, in a chapter
headed "Basic Points of Doctrine," quotes from another authoritative
Vatican document "Guardem et Spes" which declares:-
"By the very fact of their having been created, all things are
endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and
order which man must respect. . . "
Intensive farming methods are a new phenomenon so perhaps many of
us have been caught unaware. However, we cannot claim ignorance of
the abuses we impose on pain-feeling creatures to satisfy our own
human requirements (not all of which are vital). We have seen
chickens crammed in battery cages on our television screens each
time there is a new health scare. No excuse now exists for assuming
that our eggs and white meat still come from pleasant old-fashioned
farm yards, where hens cluck contentedly over wide areas, satisfying
their God-given curiosity.
Intensive farming produces intense suffering. We have seen it
with our own eyes. Yet because our Daventry nuns "rely on egg sales
for income," we and our Bishops have condoned conditions which other
countries reject. The Northampton monastery had 10,000 battery-caged
birds and resisted danger to human life. A double scandal indeed as
Sister Morgan O.P. protests.
Whatever happened to "Care of the Individual?"