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Government responds to Parliament on layer hens

26 July 2006

Government responds to Parliament on layer hens

Today the Labour-Progressive Government responded to a recent report by Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee on the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2005 and specifically the Committee’s three recommendations.

The Government supports the Committee’s ‘Recommendation 3’ and action is being taken to clarify wording around the term “cages” in the Code. The Government supports the Committee’s intent in recommendations ‘1’ and ‘2’ to review Minimum Standard No. 7 dealing with cage space requirements and to specify dates for the transition to alternative systems. However, the Government is not able to accept the Committee’s findings that this standard does not comply with the obligations of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

“When the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) recommended the Code it did so on the basis that it was unable to draw definitive conclusions on the relative welfare benefits of housing systems, due to inadequate information being available. Consequently NAWAC determined that, as an interim measure until further information becomes available, increased cage size provided welfare benefits for layer hens,” Minister of Agriculture Jim Anderton said.

“In the absence of definitive information on the relative welfare benefits of the various systems the Government believes it would be inappropriate to specify a date for a transition to alternative systems at this time. I have asked NAWAC to make research on alternatives to the current situation, including how hens are housed, a priority. I am advised that a scientific committee has already been convened to plan this research.

“This issue is not as black and white as some people have made out. There are animal welfare issues with barn and free-range systems too. Pecking and cannibalism are common in these systems and currently controlled by de-beaking, which is an animal welfare issue in itself. Very new technology, to trim beaks with infrared light, holds promise but this has yet to be fully evaluated.

"World-leading research on the relative benefits of different production systems, which has been prepared for the European Commission, is expected to help inform NAWAC deliberations and this has yet to be completed. Once it is, this research, along with research into our own domestic industry, will give NAWAC the necessary information to begin a review in 2008 and recommend a new code in 2009.

“There is considerable uncertainty in the international environment on this issue. Germany was proposing to phase out all cage rearing of layer hens by 2007 but now this ban will only apply to cages that are not “furnished”, for example with nests and perches. The wider European Union (EU) had planned to phase out non-“furnished” cages from 2012, pending a review of the science but the report back dates have since been extended. I understand it is likely that the 2012 date will be pushed out, especially with the addition of 10 new member states to the EU, and the scientific reports have been delayed.

“In this period of ongoing international research NAWAC has set an interim Code that ensures that basic minimum standards around cage systems are in place. The poultry industry needs to be aware that the current code is interim and that more research is underway. The industry should expect that if the scientific advice is for further strengthening of the code in 2009 then the Government will act.

“However, we cannot create a seismic shift in the poultry industry if we do not know where we are going. Tens of millions of dollars of investment has been made in New Zealand’s production systems and it is important that any improvements in welfare conditions be done in a planned and science-based manner. Proper research will allow us to deliver genuine welfare gains and plan a transitional path that does not create unreasonable costs for egg producers, and importantly, egg consumers.

“In the meantime consumers are able to make their own choices. I am pleased that over 80% of eggs produced in New Zealand are about to be properly labelled so consumers will know exactly what they are buying,” Jim Anderton said.

Government response to the Final Report of the Regulations Review Committee on the complaint about the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2005

Introduction

The Government has carefully considered the Regulations Review Committee’s final report on the complaint about the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2005 (the Code).

The Government responds to the three recommendations in the report in accordance with Standing Order 253.

The Government supports recommendation 3 and action is being taken to clarify wording around the term “cages” in the Code. The Government supports the intent of recommendations 1 and 2 to review Minimum Standard No. 7 dealing with cage space requirements and to specify dates for the transition to alternative systems. However, the Government is not able to accept the Committee’s findings that this standard does not comply with the obligations of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.


Recommendations and Government Response

Recommendation 1: review the Minimum Standard No. 7 to comply with the obligations of the Animal Welfare Act 1999

Response: The Government supports the need for a review of Minimum Standard No. 7, although it considers that this standard does comply with the obligations of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (see the response to recommendation 2 for explanation). The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) was unable to draw definitive conclusions on the relative welfare benefits of housing systems due to inadequate information being available. As a consequence NAWAC determined that, as an interim measure until further information becomes available, increased cage size conferred welfare benefits for layer hens.


Recommendation 2: include in the review a requirement that the minimum standard specifies dates for the conclusion of current non-complying cage systems and for the transition to alternative systems

Response: The Government considers that Minimum Standard No. 7 does specify a date for the conclusion of current non-complying cage systems, that is, cages that provide less than 550 sq cm per bird. These cages are to be phased out by 1 January 2014 as specified in Minimum Standard 7(d).

The ‘exceptional circumstances’ provision does not apply to cages providing 550 sq cm or more per bird as NAWAC current determination is that these cages comply with the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. NAWAC was unable to draw definitive conclusions on the relative welfare benefits of housing systems due to inadequate information being available. Consequently NAWAC determined that, as an interim measure until further information becomes available, increased cage size conferred welfare benefits for layer hens. In the absence of definitive information on the relative welfare benefits of the various systems it would be inappropriate to specify a date for a transition to an alternative system for these compliant cages at this time.

However, the Government accepts the intent of this recommendation. NAWAC is reviewing whether the 550+ sq cm cage should be replaced by cages that provide more space and/or behavioural enrichment or other housing systems and management that offer greater overall welfare outcomes. However, NAWAC does not have sufficient information to make those recommendations at present nor to determine a date by which any change should occur. Little is known about the current welfare status of layer hens in New Zealand, or the advantages and disadvantages of various housing systems in the New Zealand context. Major international research into housing systems is also only just becoming available. The Minister of Agriculture has asked NAWAC to make obtaining this information a priority. NAWAC has established a Poultry Research Advisory Committee to gather the information necessary to make informed recommendations as quickly as practicable. A work programme is being developed and resources to undertake this work will then be sought. At the conclusion there will be a formal review of the Code under the Animal Welfare Act and, in particular, of the future of cage systems. In the meantime the current Code ensures that some basic minimum standards around cage systems are in place.


Recommendation 3: consult on revised wording for the definition of current and conventional battery cages as required for a proposal to make an amendment to the code

Response: The Government accepts this recommendation. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and NAWAC were already intending to consult on revised wording with experts or potentially affected parties as necessary, but no public consultation on a proposal for amendment is required, as the changes would constitute minor amendments under section 76 of the Animal Welfare Act. The amendments would only involve changes to wording in the explanatory notes in the Code. No changes are proposed to wording in any minimum standard, other than minor editorial changes.

Conclusion

The Government accepts recommendation 3. It also accepts the intent of recommendations 1 and 2, although it is not able to accept the Committee’s findings that Minimum Standard No. 7 does not comply with the obligations of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

ENDS

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