Food & Farming

Massachusetts Bans Chicken Cages; Rhode Island Looks to Extend Use


PROVIDENCE — While Massachusetts just passed a law prohibiting cages for egg-laying chickens, Rhode Island is proposing regulations that would allow the livestock practice to endure, perhaps indefinitely.

Animal-rights advocates are urging the public to speak out against proposed rules for Rhode Island that would permit an 18-year extension on the use of battery cages for chickens.

The Humane Society of the United States calls for an end to the practice and several other changes to the proposed regulations. But the animal-rights group focuses most of its attention on the use of the small cages that confine egg-laying hens for their lives.

So-called battery cages typically hold about a dozen chickens, each given the surface area the size of a legal-sized sheet of paper for their estimated two-year life.

The state’s proposed new rules call for an 18-year phase out of battery cages and allowing the perpetual use of colony cages, which contain perches and areas for laying and scratching. Critics say colony cages are often more crowded and punishing than battery cages.

“If these regulations are approved, Rhode Island will have lower standards than Taco Bell, lower standards than Dollar Tree,” said Sarah Swingle, a public-policy specialist for the Humane Society.

The cage-free movement has grown in recent years. California’s ban started last year. Massachusetts followed this year on Election Day. Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Walmart, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Target, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Subway are making the switch to cage-free eggs.

Repeated efforts to ban battery cages in Rhode Island have failed in the General Assembly. Rhode Island has a single egg farm, Little Rhody Farms, that uses battery cages.

A livestock committee overseen by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) said the changes are needed because of a lack of administrative oversight.

DEM said it receives frequent complaints about the welfare of livestock. “Unfortunately, the department lacks the tools to enforce minimum standards for the care of these animals. These regulations will provide the standards and the means of enforcement of those standards,” according to the state agency.

The new standards were written by the seven-member livestock welfare council. Its members are Debora Bresch of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA); Scott Marshall, state veterinarian for the Division of Agriculture; Lyn Spinella of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau; Christine Smith of the Potter League; Richard Rhodes III of the University of Rhode Island; Louis Vinagro III, a local hog farmer.

Bresch disagrees with the board’s recommendations and has urged stronger standards, including the end of battery cages.

“A variety of inhumane practices that are clearly out of step with good animal husbandry, animal welfare advances being made in other states and commercial farming, and also the will of Rhode Island’s legislature and public,” Bresch wrote in submitted testimony.

A request for comment from DEM wasn’t returned.

Swingle said the proposed rules also would allow for painful amputations such as castration and dehorning to be performed without pain relief; surgery on a male chickens to pull out their reproductive organs with no pain relief; and mulesing, the cutting off of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the backside of a sheep.

Other groups also say the proposed standards don’t go far enough to protect animals: ASPCA, Providence-based Defenders of Animals, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Center for Food Safety, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, Compassion Over Killing and Compassion in World Farming.

Comments on the regulation must be submitted by Nov. 14 to Scott Marshall, State Veterinarian, Division of Agriculture, 235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908 or via e-mail to [email protected].


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  1. MA has voter initiative for voters to have a chance to propose and vote on such ballot measures, but RI does not, in part because of opposition to RI voter initiative from progressive groups when it was a live issue. It seems the RI progressives mostly thought it is better to rely on the legislature than give voters more of a voice even though as we can see from yesterday’s vote, RIers support good causes. Now other states are using VI to help farm animals, legalize pot, increase minimum wages, we have no recourse, and if Trump gets 1 or 2 Supreme Court picks we may also have no redress if they allow banning abortion and birth control.

  2. People have been sold a bill of goods about cage free chickens. Cage free hens eat poop covered food scratched up from urine covered ground. They will also eat anything else they can find including each other. That is why cage free hens have their beaks cut off. Cage free egg production is the most dangerous way to house chickens. Cage free eggs are also more labor intensive, Switching to cage free eggs will use more illegal aliens who will be subjected to searching for eggs in a contaminated environment. (The dirty little secrete or organic food is that it is grown on the backs of under paid and abused illegal aliens) Why do you think farmers went into modern egg production? They wanted to control the quantity and quality of feed and reduce the damage done by the chickens to each other. This is supported by a study done by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Here ia a link to their study:
    If you want to see what the life of a cage free hens is watch this video

    • Randy, you are clearly a Big Ag shill with no compunctions about spreading disinformation and untruths. I am at work and unable to take you to task point by point, but you should be deeply ashamed. #fornow

    • Randy, I cannot image someone still using the term "aliens". Are you referring to immigrants? Shame on you on several levels

  3. If the RI Legislature won’t do the right thing, then the only thing to do is to publicly shame Little Rhody Farms while also carrying out a boy-cott of Little Rhody Farms eggs and poultry, and to boycott any restaurants, grocery stores or facilities that support Little Rhody Farms.

  4. So you CAN research the correct answer when a mistake is pointed out to you, but you still just repeat the same mis-information handed out by the Humane Society, interesting.

  5. This is awful, that Rhode Island would allow this to continue, knowing what we know now. Stop treating these animals like this. Just disgusted.

    PROVIDENCE — While Massachusetts just passed a law prohibiting cages for egg-laying chickens, Rhode Island is proposing regulations that would allow the livestock practice to endure, perhaps indefinitely.

  6. I’m thoroughly confused by this story. The new regulation that ecoRi suggests we oppose was written by a seven-member livestock welfare council including the Potter League and the state vet, yet only Bresch of the ASPCA disagreed with her fellow members? Why did they not all disagree with this? Why don’t they propose something more progressive, like Massachusetts, whose residents should be very proud of themselves. I try to buy my eggs at farmers markets, but when I can’t I’ll make sure to avoid cartons that say Lil Rhody Farms.

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