Newsletter Article:

"Forced Molting" -- A Cruel Farming Practice

One of the most heated debates occurring in the American Veterinary Medical Association is the issue of "forced molting" which is a very cruel method of getting increased egg production from a group of hens by starving them for a period of 6-14 days (usually 10-14). Sadly, a practice (starvation) which is so cruel as to be illegal in most, if not all, states' anti-cruelty statutes is considered an industry standard which the AVMA refuses to oppose.

The practice of "forced molting" became popular in the '60's and rapidly became the prevalent management system, now practiced in 75% of egg producing facilities. After a period of egg production averaging 80 weeks, the hens in production are abruptly denied all food for the 10-14 day period, and as a result, suffer elevated mortality rates, increased salmonella bacterial infections (which makes the practice an unacceptable health hazard), and a loss of 15% to 35% of their body weight. For those hens who survive this starvation, there is an increase in egg production for the next 30 to 60 weeks before they are slaughtered.

The life of a battery hen (where commercial eggs are produced) is so brutal that it is unimaginable that the food animal scientists would design a system, which makes their lives so much worse. Please remember that these hens are given only 6.9 square inches of space for their entire life in a wire cage with 3 to 5 cage mates. They have no chance to satisfy their many behavioral needs. Their only source of pleasure and relief is their food, which is abruptly removed and withheld for days. Many expire when food is reintroduced by choking to death in their frantic efforts to eat.

Veterinarians who support this practice claim that forced molting is no different than the natural brooding (nesting) cycle in which hens eat much less as they incubate their eggs. However, forced molting is not initiated by the complicated hormonal cascade seen in natural brooding, in which the hen voluntarily reduces her food intake but still gets off the nest to eat every 2 to 3 days. And obviously, natural molting does not result in a 35% loss of weight with all the abnormalities and illness seen in the commercial egg producers.

The increase in salmonella shedding due to this practice has caused the Food Safety & Inspection Service of the USDA to call for the elimination of forced molting and the investigation into more humane alternatives. Despite this, the AVMA continues to allow the practice by its very ambiguous wording in its present position statement. Even though chickens, unfortunately, do not elicit the warm support that dogs and cats attract, no animal should be starved. It is wrong scientifically, legally, and ethically.

Please write Dr. Gail Goleb (c/o AVMA, 1931 N. Meacham Rd., Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360) and demand that the AVMA change its position on forced molting to an unambiguous ban thereby joining the European veterinary community who helped to make forced molting illegal in the European Union.

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XIII, No.3, Fall 1999.