India is known throughout the world as a nation of vegetarians, and vegetarianism is indeed very common there. In recent years, however, this growing economic power, even with its strong, animal-friendly religious and cultural traditions, has seen meat eating on the rise, and the worst elements of factory farming are taking hold. There are an estimated 140 to 200 million egg-laying hens living in conventional battery cages in the world’s largest democracy.
When I went to India last November to launch our new offices on the subcontinent, I visited nearly a half dozen battery cage facilities. I saw hens living in space allotments smaller than a sheet of printer paper. I saw filth and flies and overcrowding. And I saw animals who would never make it out of their cages alive.
Erin Van Voorhies
Such confinement violates the provisions of Section 11(1)(e) of the 1960 national Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which requires that animals confined to cages be provided with reasonable opportunity for movement. Guided by the plain language of this foresighted statute, the Animal Welfare Board of India issued an advisory a year ago to all state governments stating that battery cages should not be used, and that existing battery cages should be phased out by 2017.
Humane Society International India has been following up with all of the state animal husbandry departments in the country, convincing them to issue a directive that it is a violation of the PCA Act to confine hens in battery cages. Accordingly, a majority of them have issued directives to their officers, and poultry farmers have been instructed to phase out and avoid battery cages, and not to make any investments in these extreme confinement facilities.
In India, there is a big gap between what the law says and what happens on the ground, and that’s especially true when it comes to animals. But in this case, the law is unambiguous, and we know that there are other ways to raise birds. This correction may take a while, but the trajectory is clear. Our staff members in India are determined to see this through. No nation that values animals, as India does, can indefinitely confine more than 100 million birds in these kinds of conditions.