New Zealand bans battery cages for chickens – but the replacement is ‘just as bad’ | New Zealand

Battery cages for laying hens will be illegal in New Zealand from 2023, but animal welfare activists are urging the government to scrap colony replacement cages, which they say are just as bad.

The plan to ban battery cages has been in the works for 10 years – in 2012 the former National Party government committed to phasing them out by January 1, 2023.

Battery cages are widely considered detrimental to the health and welfare of birds that cannot engage in normal behavior and are vulnerable to infection and disease due to cramped conditions. Most European countries, including the United Kingdom, banned the use of battery cages in 2012; Mexico, Israel and Canada have also banned battery cages. Australia announced in August that it would phase out cages by 2036.

New Zealand has 3.9 million chickens producing eggs, according to the Ministry of Primary Industries. Exports for the year ending June 2022 were around NZ$18m (£9m), while the New Zealand Egg Producers Confederation website reported retail sales of eggs to be NZ$286m.

The department doesn’t keep records of how many chickens have been moved from battery cages to colony cages, but the federation’s executive director, Michael Brooks, says that as of December 2022, 10% were in conventional cages (and will be gone by Jan. 1), 33% are in colonies, 29% in the pens and 34% free range. In December 2012, 86% were in battery cages.

Gray Harrison, the department’s director of animal welfare, said the department has worked with industry to ensure compliance with the incoming ban. “As part of that, our animal welfare inspectors have inspected 26 chicken farms over the past 12 months to ensure they meet the transitional deadline of January 1, 2023,” he said.

Jessica Chambers, head of Animal Welfare Campaigns, said animal welfare group Safe was happy to phase out battery cages, but was disappointed colony cages were being promoted as an alternative.

Colony cages—sometimes referred to as brood cages—are larger cages that hold about 60 chickens. They are required to allow space for scratching, perching and nesting.

But Chambers said the chickens still live in cramped cages and despite the “fertilized” elements, the chickens are unable to practice normal behaviour, which is against New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t raise chickens that lay a lot of eggs and consume them — we’d just let them live their normal, normal lives,” Chambers said. “Laying hens have been bred to lay an egg every day, whereas the average hen lays maybe two clutches — 12, maybe 24 eggs maximum — in a year.”

Prior to the 2017 election, Chambers said, the Labor and Green parties had indicated their intention to de-cage the colonies, but that had not happened yet.

In a statement, Green Party animal welfare spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick said the practice of factory farming is inhumane and does not provide a quality of life for animals.

She said the party does not support the use of colony cages and wishes to phase out factory farming, adding that the “better” factory farming “is still just factory farming”.

But Mika Wahetiri, the animal welfare minister, said the government had no plans to ban colony cages at this point.

The gradual shift away from battery cages is in line with international best practices, Waheytiri said, adding that consumer demand for cage-free eggs is affecting the systems egg producers use.

Consumer sentiment has prompted the nation’s supermarkets to commit to stopping selling colony eggs by 2027. Countdown Supermarket says it will stock entirely cage-free eggs by 2025.

The federation warned that this could lead to a shortage of eggs. The supermarkets’ decision, Brooks said, put “real uncertainty in the minds of farmers,” many of whom had spent “a million dollars plus to convert to the colony system.”

This, along with Covid [and] Grain prices have seen farmers become more cautious about business decisions, and the flock shrank to 3,400,000 chickens, down from 4,200,000 just 18 months ago.”

But Chambers said it was time New Zealand caught up with the likes of the European Union, which is close to a blanket ban on cage farming by 2027.

“These animals matter, they have personalities and they don’t want to live in a terrible little cage their whole life. I think the time has come – New Zealand is ready for that and I think our government is ready for that too.”

Leave a Comment