Passing the buck for egg shortage

A brown feathered hen standing in front of a wooden fence.
Image credit: Jinki Cambronero

You may well have read articles about the egg shortage gripping Aotearoa. But this offering of egg-related opinion really made my blood boil.

Egg industry pundits have been scrambling to point the finger at anyone other than themselves. While individual farmers can perhaps be forgiven for ignoring the writing on the wall – despite it being ten years since the government enacted a ban on battery cages – my question is, what have the Poultry Industry Association (PIANZ) and the Egg Federation, been doing all these years if this ban comes as such a surprise?

When I popped over to the Egg Federation website, I read a bizarre news post (which has since been removed), saying that ‘as of 1 January 2023, it is no longer lawful to house hens in cages.’ 

No cage eggs to be produced after 31 December 2022
Posted January 17, 2023
As of 1 January 2023, it is no longer lawful to house hens in cages. However,  there will still be eggs from hens housed in cages on sale to consumers for several weeks in early 2023 as they will have been laid prior to that date. Therefore,  there will still be eggs with the designation […]

Either the Egg Federation is confused or they’re deliberately trying to make it sound like it’s a ban on all cages. Do they not know that a colony cage is still a cage, and colony cages are still legal. 

Let me explain this important point, as the communications that have been coming out from the egg and poultry industries recently have often been clear as mud.

The ban that has now come into effect is only on battery cages – small wire cages where three to seven hens are trapped inside to produce eggs. Colony cages are still legal. A colony cage is a larger wire cage with around 60 birds. Even though a colony cage is larger than a battery cage, in a colony cage the hens each only have a space little more than the size of an iPad in which to live their life. Despite a few so-called ‘enrichments’ colony cages still mean a life of misery for the hens confined inside. 

Brown hens crammed together behind the bars of a colony cage. The ones in the background are perching but having to crouch down because the cage roof is so low.
A colony cage (still legal) [Image credit Farmwatch]

While the battery cage ban is a positive step, this is another case where the NZ farming industry is acting too little, too late. They keep forgetting that most Kiwis do care about animals being given a decent life. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that cages need to go. All cages for hens – battery and colony – are being banned in a wave of progressive change overseas.

Two questions remain: 

1. Where is the leadership from the poultry and egg industry bodies?
2. Why have they failed to help the farmers plan to prevent empty shelves?

Maybe these leaders are trying to shift the blame by, in the case of the Rural News opinion piece, putting supermarkets in the spotlight, because they feel they have egg on their faces. They have failed to effectively advise their members, the farmers, to invest in cage-free and free-range production. Ten years was long enough for the egg industry to transition, so why is the narrative that this isn’t their fault?

Even if it was the supermarkets’ commitments to only sell cage-free eggs that smashed the market for cage eggs, that move should hardly come as a surprise. Countdown committed to cage-free back in 2017 followed shortly after by Foodstuffs (owners of Pak’nSave & New World).

I reiterate, most Kiwis don’t want to buy into animal cruelty and that’s why supermarkets committed to selling only cage-free eggs! 

Is the same going to happen with chicken meat? Currently, the lives of the 120 million birds reared every year in NZ are full of suffering, primarily because of the unnatural breeds of chicken used. These are different to the breed of hen used by the egg industry. The birds farmed for meat grow so big and so fast that many suffer chronic pain and lameness. Some can’t lift their bodies up off the floor to reach food or water. Others struggle to breathe or suffer organ failure within weeks of being hatched. All because they’ve been bred to grow faster than nature intended. 

Innovative food businesses including HelloFresh, My Food Bag and Domino’s have signed up to higher welfare standards that will help give chickens farmed for meat, better lives and to banning the use of these unnatural breeds in their supply chains.

In so many sectors, Aotearoa is renowned for its innovation and forward-thinking. It certainly doesn’t seem that way for eggs and chicken meat. It’s like a company still using carrier pigeons to deliver their messages because their CEO thinks computers are unnecessary, new-fangled gadgets. A CEO who did that would soon be sacked by their Board of Directors. 

Surely it’s time for the leaders of the chicken and egg industry bodies to get with the programme or make way for others who will!

Leave a Reply