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Waiting for reprieve for suffering chooks

Chicken colony cage

By Mojo Mathers

New Zealanders really care about the welfare of animals. In 2010, after hearing all of our voices, the Government finally made the decision to phase out the use of sow stalls for pigs. We are looking forward to the end of 2015 when the horrible treatment of pigs in our country through the use of stalls will finally be ended.

The way that the Government sets our animal welfare laws is through codes of animal welfare, which they develop separately for each type of animal. At the time of releasing the pig code the Minister said that it confirmed New Zealand’s “position as a world leader on animal welfare and demonstrates the priority this Government places on it.”

The same Minister, David Carter, has just been handed the new code of welfare for layer hens and is currently considering whether to approve it or not. Most of the chickens that lay our eggs in New Zealand lead a horrible life, spent entirely in one small cage with 4 or 5 other chickens where all they can do is eat and lay eggs and stand or lie on the floor of the cage. Many New Zealanders have switched to buying free range eggs because they do not want to be responsible for that sort of miserable life.

We don’t know what is in the hen code that the Minister is reading at the moment but we are hoping that it takes the same awesome step as the previous code did for pigs and gets rid of cages for good.

But sadly, in reality, it looks like the code will call for the phasing out of battery cages, but instead allow for the use of ‘colony cages’. These are bigger cages but filled with many more chickens so each chicken still only has about the space of an A4 piece of paper each. There is a rail in there for the chickens to perch on, instead of sitting or lying on the dirty floor. Chickens like privacy when they lay their eggs and these colony cages have corners for them to do that in, but they are nothing you could call private spaces. They also have a rubber pad on which the chickens, if they can find room presumably, can scratch their claws.

Colony cages are not an acceptable alternative to existing battery hen cages; they do not allow the hens to express anything like their normal behaviours. On top of that, producers will have to spend huge amounts of money on changing to these colony systems when instead they should be investing in changes that actually give a decent quality of life for these hens. The SPCA has estimated that changing to a barn system would be cheaper than building more cages.

I’ve asked the Minister to reject the code if it allows the on-going use of cages; colony systems just provide the same old suffering in new cages.

Later this year the Government will be reviewing the Animal Welfare Act itself. This is a great opportunity to do as the Minister has said and position New Zealand as a world leader on animal welfare. Instead of wasting resources tinkering at the edges of the current system, we should be looking at how we can be innovative and transform our businesses to lead in all aspects of primary production including animal welfare. I will certainly be working from Parliament to make sure that happens.

Mojo Mathers is the Green Party Animal Welfare Spokesperson

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