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Olympian: Voters May Be Asked to Decide Fate of Caged Chickens

By Erica C. Barnett February 23, 2011

A proposed statewide initiative, I-1130, would prohibit keeping egg-laying chickens in so-called battery cages in Washington State, the Olympian reports. Battery cages are stacked cages so small chickens can't spread their wings, walk, or lie down; typically, battery chickens' beaks are cut off with a hot blade to ensure they won't peck each other or themselves to death in their crowded conditions. Male chicks are usually killed shortly after they're born.

According to the Olympian:
About 96 percent of eggs sold in the United States come from hens who live nearly all of their short lives in a battery cage. These cages vary in size, ranging from 18 inches to 24 inches wide by 20 inches to 25.5 inches deep, and house three to 11 hens. The hens typically have from 48 square inches to 72 square inches of space, less than a piece of copy paper.

Use of these cages began in the 1950s, and became common by the 1970s because they increased egg production and reduced feed costs.

A hen in a battery cage has a very limited ability to walk, lie down, stand upright, stretch her legs, turn around, build a nest, spread her wings, sharpen her claws, and no ability to dust bathe (done to maintain feathers and regulate heat) or to perch (a position chickens use to sleep, establish hierarchy, and excrete).

Some studies provide evidence of higher levels of bone disease, death, and other complications attributed to the inabililty to exercise. A number of these studies prompted the European Union, California, and Michigan to ban all battery cages.

The proposal, which is endorsed by the Humane Society, PAWS, and Farm Sanctuary, would "prohibit the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, or fully extend their wings.
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