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Speech: Battery cages - the tides are turning

20 March 2002

Battery cages - the tides are turning

Sue Kedgley General Debate Speech, Parliament, Slot number four

Last week I attended the launch of the SPCA's campaign to ban the battery hen cage and I was given a battery hen to hold.

It was just a typical battery hen, 18 months old, that the SPCA had picked up from a battery hen farm in Wellington.

But when I looked closely at that hen I was profoundly shocked. It wasn't just that she had lost a lot of her feathers. Or that her beak had been burnt off.

The skin under her neck was raw, red and festering due to the constant rubbing against other birds and the sides of her cage.

Two and a half million hens in New Zealand share the same fate as that one sad looking hen. They spend their lives inside a cramped, barren cage with two or three other hens, with a living space smaller than an A4 piece of paper, unable to do most of the things that hens normally do in their natural environment, such as walk, peck and scratch, dust bathe or even stretch their wings.

At about five days old most battery chicks have their beaks cut off - a mutilation that is carried out to stop hens pecking each other to death as a result of the overcrowded, stressful and boring living conditions they have to endure for the duration of their lives. Some have their middle toes removed too.

We should bear this in mind in the run up to Easter as our TVs and mailboxes will fill with images of happy, fluffy, yellow chicks that all our children love.

As I held the tragic looking creature at the SPCA launch, it occurred to me that she was a symbol of much that is wrong in our society.

Mahatma Gandhi once observed that 'the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.' What does it say about the moral state of our society that we allow millions of hens to spend their lives locked up in cages in this kind of condition.

It says, firstly, that as a people we put profit and greed ahead of everything else. A life of suffering for millions of animals is tolerated because it saves a few cents on the price of an egg and brings higher returns to the big business of egg production.

It says clearly we have lost touch with our humanity, too, for how otherwise could we allow millions of animals to be treated as if they were not alive, as if they did not feel or suffer?

It suggests that we have lost touch with nature and control of our food supply, for why otherwise would we buy eggs from hens that have never seen the sun, which are fed a totally unnatural diet and which only get their yellow colour because of artificial dyes that are incorporated into their feed?

Finally it suggests that politicians have an extraordinary capacity for hypocrisy. Only three years ago Parliament passed the Animal Welfare Act which states, unequivocally, that it is illegal to cause animals to suffer. And it stipulates, in section 10, that all animals must be able to display normal patterns of behaviour.

Obviously a hen in a cage which cannot walk, peck, scratch or stretch its wings, cannot express its normal patterns of behaviour. This is an obvious breach of section 10 of the Animal Welfare Act. So why has the battery hen cage not simply been declared to be illegal?

A six week public consultation will begin shortly. After that the National Animal Welfare Advisory committee will meet to decide whether the battery hen cage is acceptable under the new Act or not. If it is honest and brave and says that it is not, it will make a recommendation to phase it out to the Minister of Agriculture, Jim Sutton. There will be no parliamentary debate.

So I call on all MP's in this House today to ask their local egg producer if you can visit a battery hen farm over the next few months, so you can see for yourselves the conditions that hens are reared in New Zealand.

Consumers have a right to know how their food is produced. It is nothing short of scandalous that an industry producing food that most New Zealanders eat will not allow us, the consumers of New Zealand, inside to see how that food is grown.

So I challenge the layer hen industry today to prove they have nothing to hide; to lift the veil of secrecy that has surrounded factory farming in New Zealand, by opening up their factory farms to the media, to politicians and to members of the public.

If we don't act now, if we cannot take the time to write a quick submission, then, through our laze and apathy, we are sentencing these millions of hens to at least 10 more years of misery and suffering.


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