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SPCA Slams Substandard Codes

22 December 2004

SPCA Slams Substandard Codes

The government needs to work out just where it stands on key animal welfare issues or it risks alienating hundreds of thousands of responsible, animal-loving voters, says the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

The Society describes the new welfare codes for pigs and layer hens, issued by Agriculture Minister the Hon. Jim Sutton today, as substandard and unacceptable to many New Zealanders.

Compiled by the government-appointed National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), the codes delay any decision on banning sow stalls or battery cages until 2009, in order to allow for further "research" into alternative systems, such as group housing or free range.

NAWAC's recommendations were made despite the committee's own finding that sow stalls and battery cages failed to meet the basic requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, while alternative systems did meet these requirements. Earlier drafts of the codes had proposed a ban on sow stalls by 2015 and on battery cages by 2023.

The government has now approved both codes, but has directed NAWAC to consider ways of reducing the use of sow stalls more quickly than provided for in the pig code.

"The bottom line is that there is now no clear end in sight for the suffering of pigs confined in sow stalls or of hens confined in battery cages," says the SPCA's Acting Chief Executive, Jenny Prattley.

"We are disgusted and appalled by the new codes and we believe that a great many New Zealanders will share our revulsion. The only people with cause for celebration are hardliners from the pork and egg industries, who have lobbied hard for these results. NAWAC has shown a shameful degree of weakness in succumbing to this pressure.

"Whilst we welcome the government's call for NAWAC to consider ways of more quickly reducing sow stall use, we regard this as a woefully insufficient response to the pig code as currently formulated. We also note the absence of a similar government proviso with regard to battery cages.

Mrs Prattley points out that, it takes time to phase-out widely-used production systems. Even if NAWAC was to call for a ban on battery cages when it reconsiders them in 2009, it could still be 2030 or later before New Zealand is finally rid of them. She adds that an earlier decision on sow stalls is still going to leave New Zealand trailing far behind much of the developed world.

"It is sobering to compare the situation here with that in the United Kingdom, where sow stalls are already banned or in Germany, where battery cages will be outlawed by 2007.

"It is also very hard to see the logic of asking for more time for research when there is already a huge body of international research available concerning these issues." she says.

Sow stalls, used by a minority of pig farmers for constraining pregnant females, prevent the pigs from walking or turning around. Most pigs constrained by sow stalls spend virtually their entire lives in these cramped conditions.

"Pigs are an intelligent and sensitive species and the frustration, discomfort and boredom caused by this extreme form of confinement can ultimately drive them insane. The very fact that 71% of New Zealand pig farmers do not use this cruel system, proves that it is totally unnecessary," says Mrs Prattley.

Battery hens spend most of their lives in cramped and bare environments which prevent them from performing most of their normal behaviours, including walking, stretching their wings, pecking, scratching, nesting and dust-bathing. The hens tend to suffer from severe feather loss, due to constant rubbing against cage walls and other hens in the cage, and are also prone to crippling leg weaknesses.

Jenny Prattley says that it is nothing more than a sick joke for the new code to stipulate that the minimum living space for individual hens be boosted over 10 years from 450 to 550 square centimetres.

"This absurdly small increase will merely provide each hen with the equivalent of just two credit cards in extra space," she points out.

In recent years, the Royal New Zealand SPCA has spearheaded high profile campaigns against both sow stalls and battery cages. More than 64,000 submissions were sent to the Agriculture Minister during 2001 calling for a ban on sow stalls whilst 87% of those asked told a Colmar Brunton poll that they favoured a ban.

The following year, over one 120,000 submissions were sent to the minister calling for an end to battery cages. Meanwhile, 79% of those asked told Colmar Brunton pollsters that they would be prepared to pay higher prices for eggs if that meant hens no longer needed to live in battery cages.

"With a General Election due next year, it would have been reasonable to expect the government to pay more heed to the clearly-expressed preferences of New Zealanders. It is shameful that their voices are being ignored, along with the needless suffering of defenceless creatures.

"For many of us, Christmas is a time of reflection. Let us hope that Mr Sutton and his colleagues use the upcoming holiday season to reflect on whether they truly want New Zealand to become one of the developed world's last bastions of cruel farming practices," says Mrs Prattley.


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