Meat consumption has grown sharply along with the rising prosperity of developing countries. As a result of this, large-scale livestock farming is now widespread throughout the region. However, an increasing number of people are becoming concerned with the conditions the animals are raised and how they are being treated.
The ideal form of animal farming is free-range, where the animals are allowed to live their lives to the fullest in the best conditions before slaughter. Nevertheless, with the ever increasing demand for meat, free–range farming is not an option for most farmers as this method requires open pastures and more land space. Therefore farmers opt for factory farming where animals are kept in cramped spaces with no room for movement — chickens cannot even stand or spread their wings, continue to lay in their own faeces and urine, are not exposed to outdoor air or sunlight, are cruelly handled, injected with hormones and antibiotics and short lifespan as they are slaughtered as soon as they are ready for the market. Furthermore, they have the potential of exposure to various viruses and bacteria via the manure and urine in their environment.
Such conditions severely affect the physiological and psychological state of the animals being farmed. Physically, animals are prevented from displaying their natural behaviour such as walking, stretching their limbs, dust-bathing and other natural behaviours. Psychologically, animals in factory farms are frustrated, bored and distresses as is shown by their repetitive and /or self-destructive actions. This clearly violates the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1953 (Revised 2006) which requires animals confined to cages be provided with reasonable space for movement.
Animals confined under such stressful conditions are prone to attack each other, therefore to prevent injuries, chickens are de-beaked, de-horned and tails docked. They are bound to suffer from shock because painkilling medicines are not used in these operations.
Another area of deep concern is the transportation of these farmed animals, which is one of the most stressful activities forced onto them. Animals are crowded into trucks and lorries, and chickens packed tightly into plastic crates, stacked high on top of each other and transported over many miles through extreme weather conditions, typically without food and water.
Animal welfare is an issue that is of increasing significance around the world. Even so, the sad reality is that Malaysia is still far behind when it comes to the issue of farm animals because the priority is on commercial profits rather than animal welfare. As expected, animal welfare will not receive the priority it deserves and can never live up to the expectations of NGOs and animal welfare groups.
In other countries changes have taken place. For instance as of January 1, 2012, the European Union (EU) countries has banned the battery hen cages on the basis of unacceptable cruelty. The law allows a 12 year "phase out" out period meant to allow egg farmers time to implement the transition away from battery cages. Most farmers in the participating countries have opted for the enriched cages, with roomier enclosures that allow hens to stretch their wings, roost on an elevated platform and nest in a designated nesting area. Others have barns or other free-range systems, but the law now clearly wants hens to sit on their nests.
In India, the Animal Welfare Board of India and most husbandry departments have advised all state governments and poultry farmers that battery cages should not be used and existing ones to be phased out by 2017.
Cruelty towards animals in farming is but a fraction of the gruesome reality. It is high time the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry look into a Farm Animal Welfare Act conforming to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act with requirements for best practices and continuance for changes in regulations with animal welfare being a strong driver for increased regulation. Change is certainly needed not only for animals but for farmers who need to be able to plan with utmost priority on good animal welfare practices.