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Nawac Condemns Hens To Cages Indefinitely

Monday 30 August 2003

Nawac Condemns Hens To Cages Indefinitely

In a decision deplored by free range egg producers, animal welfare groups and consumers, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has told the Agriculture Minister that battery cages provide "better welfare outcomes" for layer hens than free-range. This is contained in a leaked copy of the final Code edition sent to Jim Sutton by NAWAC on 19 April 2004. (Fuller details appended at end)

A proposed on battery cages on or before 2023 has gone from the present Code. Since 2002, the Egg Producers Federation (EPF), an organisation dominated by battery cage interests, has spent $700,000 of Commodity Levy Order revenue in it's fight to retain cages. That money was diverted from the general promotion of eggs. It also confirmed that such expenditure had initially been coded to "Public Relations" in its Annual Financial Statements.

Perry Spiller, a spokesman for the steering committee of the Free Range Egg Association (FREA), said that the EPF had mis-represented many things to NAWAC and government, extensively lobbied NAWAC & MPs, sent its lawyers to Wellington, and hired a PR company to lobby politicians into retaining cages. Despite its assertion of independence, NAWAC seems to have capitulated to industry, economic and political pressure.

Further, Perry Spiller commented that EPF allegations of representing all production systems is not correct. E.g. It alleged to NAWAC that de-beaking was an essential management practice on free range farms and being phased out in battery farms. Neither statement is completely accurate.

The recently released AC Nielsen survey of Supermarket Egg Sales shows that free-range advanced 19.5% on the previous year, nine times the 2.1% growth in caged egg sales. See fuller details here: www.frea.org.nz/index-page4.html
However, the EPF seems resolute in its desire to pretend that the trend to animal-friendly farming doesn't exist. The UK Free Range Producers equivalent of FREA reports a 25% market share for free-range eggs in Britain, with 40 - 50% likely in the next decade as more producers abandon cages under consumer pressure.

FREA has been formed because of the failure of the EPF to accurately and fairly represent the interests of producers of free range eggs, particularly in relation to the Animal Welfare (AWA) & Animal Products Act (APA). The EPF's failure to do this has led to Green MPs seeking an APA exemption from the Minister of Agriculture for modest scale free-range producers (less than 1000 hens). Such producers are facing economic ruination from compliance costs. Costs which arise from being ensnared by the NZFSA & EPF in arrangements that solely suited factory-farm, battery cage production systems.

Compliance costs for most battery cage operations are less than half a cent a dozen, but free-rangers faced costs closer to $1 a dozen. Free range producers see this as a battery cage producer fight-back tactic aimed at suppressing or reversing the increasing market share of free-range eggs. An article exposing the situation has just been published in the September edition of OrganicNZ. The attempt by the EPF to bring the Risk Management Protocol (RMP) implementation date forward is seen as a similar tactic.

FREA seeks to provide realistic, fair and factual information about free-range production to retailers, consumers, government, intending producers and statutory agencies. It also wants to preserve local producers and supplies of fresh free range eggs as widely as possible, throughout NZ.



An Extract From the Layer Hen Code of Welfare sent to Agriculture Minister, Hon Jim Sutton, by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee on 19 April 2004.

Section 3.3.3 Cages


Cages are the most common egg production system in use today, and currently their use accounts for the production of approximately 92% of the eggs consumed in New Zealand.

Cage systems have the advantage of protecting bird health and welfare, through the separation of the animal from its faeces, and through precise environmental control. In terms of problems such as feather pecking and cannibalism, the small group size found in a cage allows management interventions to be targeted more accurately than in non-cage systems, and reduces the total number of birds directly affected by such events.

The major disadvantage of cages is that they prevent the birds from displaying many of their normal behaviours such as they are not able to fly, run, or walk continuously. Cages also provide a barren environment where birds are denied the ability to forage or dust bathe and nest. Birds may have weaker bones due to lack of exercise.

NAWAC believes that cages do not meet the obligations of the Act, since they do not fully comply with section 4. However, while alternative systems generally provide more enriched environments and an ability to display normal behaviours, there are potential welfare issues such as feather pecking, cannibalism, greater incidence of disease, and higher mortalities.

NAWAC is unable to recommend replacement of current cage systems with alternative systems until such time as it can be shown that, in comparison to current cage systems, alternative systems, in the context of supplying New Zealand's ongoing egg consumption needs, would consistently provide better welfare outcomes for birds and be economically viable.

It is recognised that international research and development, and commercial trials are currently being conducted with cages containing perches, nest boxes, litter, and abrasive strips, and that these cage features may offer potential for the New Zealand layer industry. NAWAC therefore wishes to see further research comparing cage and alternative systems. NAWAC will not make any final decision on whether current cages should continue, be modified or be banned, until 2009, when it will review that scientific research (both national and international).

All production systems are subject to continual review and development. Future research may therefore lead to major changes in the way layer hens are managed.


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