Shih An Farm in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan has spent more than NT$1 billion (US$33.44 million) setting up an egg farm that meets the European Union egg production standards, according to local media reports.
It is the first of its kind in Asia, the reports said. The farm in Kaohsiung's A-Lien District boasts enriched cages with roomier enclosures that allow laying hens to stretch their wings, roost on an elevated platform and nest in a designated nesting area.
The Taiwan Society of Agricultural Standards presented a certificate to Shih An Farm Wednesday recognizing its commitment to a more humane egg production system.
The farm also obtained a certificate from SGS International Certification Service on the same occasion.
Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji said at the ceremony that Shih An Farm's achievement marks an important milestone in Taiwan's quest to upgrade its egg production methods for the well-being of egg-laying hens.
Since Jan. 1 this year, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has officially implemented its ban on battery cages -- the notoriously cramped cages used by many egg farmers and criticized by animal rights advocates and veterinarians who call them cruel and harmful to the hens' welfare.
"More countries are expected to follow suit in the years ahead and our livestock industry needs to catch up with this trend," Chen said.
Local animal rights activists said enriched cages are only slightly better than traditional battery cages.
In the future, they said they look forward to seeing local farmers adopt even more humane egg production methods such as barns or free-range systems.
The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of Shih An Farm's efforts to promote more humane egg production systems:
United Daily News:
Shih An Farm manager Hsieh Wen-feng said the farm has replaced two of its conventional battery cages with more hospitable EU-style "enriched" cages.
A single battery cage typically house multiple birds, leaving little to no room for walking or stretching. Such a method prevents the bird from doing a lot of its natural behavior, especially preventing its nesting behavior.
According to animal rights activists, about an hour before laying an egg, a hen will separate from the flock to look for a nesting place. If it can't find one, it starts to feel agonized and distressed.
Hsieh said the enriched cage at Shih An Farm have a nesting area which is fitted with light filters to allow hens to lay eggs in shaded area.
In addition, the enriched cage is equipped with drinking fountain, a resting platform and a playing ground.
According to Hsieh, each enriched cage accommodates 30 to 40 hens and each bird has an average of space of 750 square centimeters, three to four times that of the traditional battery cage. (July 5, 2012).
Shih An Farm covers an area of 63,000 square meters. Hsieh said the farm originally had eight battery cages. Two of them have been upgraded to enriched cages and the remaining will also be replaced with enriched cages by the end of this year.
"By then, our farm will be able to accommodate 500,000 hens and 200,000 pullets," Hsieh said.
At present, some 120,000 hens live in enriched cages. Eggs from the farm are now available at COSTCO. Although the price reaches NT$80 a catty, the eggs enjoy brisk sales.
Hsieh said Shih An eggs will also be sold at 7-Eleven convenience stores later this month. (July 5, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)