Pietermaritzburg - Animal rights groups are appealing to McDonald’s South Africa to adopt a cage-free policy for their egg-laying hens, like their international counterparts have done.Beauty Without Cruelty SA, United Front 4 Animals (UFA) and South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) along with Animal Voice, the South African representative of Compassion in World Farming, recently sent a statement petitioning for McDonald’s SA to use cage-free eggs in their products.The organisations said that in September 2015, McDonald’s International committed to phasing out battery cages, (cages the size of a 36 l microwave fitting eight to 10 hens in each) from their supply chain in Canada and the United States within 10 years. “McDonald’s has made previous animal welfare commitments, impacting its supply chains in Europe, North America, and South America, but no corresponding commitments have been made in South Africa,” said the statement. An expert in farm animal welfare, who would not be named, said there were often misconceptions about what “cage-free”, “free-range” and “cage farming” were.“With cage-free farming, the hens are not in cages, and if there is a cage, its door will always be open so the chickens can go in and out as they please.“They are able to flap their wings, walk around, feel the sunshine and the blades of grass.“Free-range farming is often chickens roaming freely in a barn.“The barn gives them space. There are holes in the barn so the chickens can go out, but only for a limited time.“Cage farming has between eight to 10 hens in a cage so small, it is the size of a 36-litre microwave,” he said.“An area the size of 25% of an A4 page is where they live between 18 months to two years before they are ‘spent’ and not laying eggs often enough.”He said it was the “spent” chickens that one often saw being sold on the side of the road or wandering around townships.He said 46 million hens were raised for their eggs in South Africa, with less than five percent in cage-free/free range facilities.Beauty Without Cruelty’s Yolanda Guse said scientific evidence showed that hens in battery cages were frustrated, distressed, and suffering, which was why McDonald’s had already adopted cage-free policies in the EU, U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “Across the globe, including in South Africa, restaurants and supermarkets are moving away from eggs produced by hens confined in cages, proving that cage-free is both viable for businesses and better for the animals. McDonald’s South Africa needs to make a cage-free commitment.”McDonald’s South Africa spokesperson Sechaba Motsieloa said the company was committed to providing all customers with the highest quality food, “and we source our ingredients from reputable local and international suppliers”.“We take note of the moves made by our USA and Canadian counterparts to fully transition to cage-free eggs for all restaurants over the next 10 years.”He said they had set aside six months to investigate the viability of implementing a cage-free policy and had been working with animal welfare organisations in the investigation.“We source our farm-fresh eggs directly from our own farms and suppliers, who meet McDonald’s stringent quality and food safety standards,” said Motsieloa.• firstname.lastname@example.org A MIDLANDS free-range chicken farmer, who would not be named, said she felt free-range egg producers would increase and emerging farmers show an interest in the industry as it is affordable to start and easy to maintain and build up.“I am very happy my birds have free access to the outdoors from sunrise till sunset, where they can scratch, stretch and sand bath. You haven’t lived until you’ve hugged a hen,” she said.A former Midlands free-range farmer, who would not be named, said most eggs in South Africa were produced in battery cages.He said big egg producers constantly tested and sampled their eggs for salmonella, which could affect any dense population of chickens.“Chickens in the battery cages are reared in cages.“They are then moved to the laying cages. It is the only life they know and is not traumatic for them; it is just traumatic for us to look at.“It would be too expensive to change to free-range and the caged chickens’ health is not compromised.“These caged chickens are well looked after. If they weren’t, we would not get the best quality eggs from them.” — WR.