Recently, as shelves in New Zealand have seen egg supplies that are either low or non-existent, people are asking “Why are there no eggs in grocery stores?”
At the start of this year a decade-old ban finally came into effect that meant keeping hens in one specific type of cage, the ‘battery cage’, became illegal. The ban was first announced in 2012, signalling a ten year warning and phase out period for this extremely cruel way of caging hens.
Are cage eggs banned in NZ?
No, not all cage eggs are banned. Only one style of cage – the battery cage containing two to five hens – is now illegal. Colony cages are still legal and in use.
The egg industry seems to want to fuel the misinformation that all caged eggs have been banned. For example, for over a month (now disappeared) the Egg Federation website said “As of 1 January 2023, it is no longer lawful to house hens in cages.” (See screenshot). This was a lie because it is still lawful to house hens in colony cages! Many New Zealand hens are currently locked in this style of factory farming, indoor-confinement colony cage.
What eggs have been banned in NZ?
Only battery cages have been banned in New Zealand. Three tiers of egg farming are currently practised in New Zealand. Colony cages are still legal and are in use. Barn eggs, where the hens are confined in a shed (but without cages) are also available, as are free-range eggs.
Why is there an egg shortage?
The egg shortage is a result of two major factors, both resulting from the egg industry fighting against improvements to hen welfare.
Some of the shortage is a result of individual farmers who resisted change and stuck with aging, outdated battery cages until the very end. Some of those have now chosen to close their businesses, contributing to the shortage.
Secondly, in 2012 when the battery cage ban was announced, the egg industry continued to push for investment in the other style of cage, colony cages, despite an established global egg production trend away from all cage systems. A few years later, major supermarkets in New Zealand committed to phasing out eggs from all cage systems in the coming decade which means there will be both a reduced and only short term market for eggs from colony cages.
The egg industry leadership seems to have done little to guide farmers to act strategically and move with established global trends away from all cages. This industry failure to recognise animal welfare progression and act accordingly with appropriate infrastructure investment has worsened the shortage. Farmers who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to modernise, stopping caging hens, have had the option to shift to either barn systems (where the hens are cage-free, but are confined indoors to a shed) or to a free-range model (where they are mostly in a shed, but have access to an outdoor area).
Are caged eggs still available in NZ?
A lot of people don’t realise this, but caged eggs are still available. This is because, although battery cages are now illegal, colony cages continue to be used in New Zealand. Where in use still overseas, they are also called furnished cages or enriched cages.
These cages are bigger and have a few additional token fittings compared with battery cages. Up to 80 hens are crammed inside each colony cage. This means each hen has only the size of an iPad or a magazine within the cage. This is a life of extreme suffering for hens.
Hens struggle to walk on the wire mesh floor, and can’t even stretch their wings open without having to push other birds out of the way. Feather loss is common from rubbing against the wires or being pulled out by their cage mates, who are bored and frustrated. Bird cannibalisation occurs when cage-mates die, if the dead hens aren’t removed quickly enough.
What are colony eggs?
Eggs labelled ‘colony eggs’ may well be misleading caring consumers into buying these eggs because they think they are cage-free. This is not the case. Colony eggs are from hens that are confined in colony cages. Colony-laid and colony eggs are cage eggs. Egg industry marketers and spokespeople avoid the word ‘cage’ and minimise it whenever possible, as they know caring Kiwis don’t want to buy eggs from hens trapped in cages.
What is the difference between colony eggs and battery eggs?
When shown photos of a row of battery cages and of colony cages, few people would notice any difference. Both are cages crammed with hens in huge sheds of industrial proportions.
Colony cages differ from battery cages in that a colony cage is larger, but around 60 to 80 hens are trapped inside, compared with the two to five hens in the proportionally smaller battery cage. Even in a colony cage, each bird only has about the size of an iPad or magazine to live her entire life.
The fittings in a colony cage comprise a nest box, scratch pad and perch. That sounds better than a barren battery cage, but in reality, the so-called ‘nest box’ is just a section of the cage with some plastic flaps hanging down from the top, similar to entering a walk-in chiller room. There are no natural materials to create a real nest. The ‘scratch pad’ is just a tiny rectangle of rougher plastic flooring, compared with the rest of the wire cage floor. The perch is of limited size, is barely off the floor and the hens can’t sit up fully straight on the perch, as the cage roof is so low.
When colony cages were first built in New Zealand, Farmwatch investigators exposed that hens in colony cages can get trapped, squashed and die between the perch and the cage floor. More recently, an ex-worker from a colony cage farm spoke out about the suffering they witnessed.
Both types of cages prevent hens from being able to engage in important natural behaviours. Both are extremely cruel and therefore, colony cages must also be banned.
How does NZ compare with other countries on hen welfare?
While New Zealand has banned battery cages, we continue to have colony cages. Both of these cruel and archaic ways of producing eggs have already been banned or are being phased out in many places overseas.
These include Denmark, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Wallonia in Belgium and Israel. While there isn’t yet a national ban on all cage systems for hens in the United States, there is significant movement towards one. Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Arizona have all banned cages in their states.
The sad reality is, the way we farm hens is another area of animal welfare where New Zealand is falling well behind. Animal advocates are working to achieve a ban on all cages for hens.
What eggs have supermarkets banned?
All major New Zealand supermarkets have committed to ending the sale of cage eggs in the coming years. In 2017, Countdown committed to phase out all cage eggs by 2025. The same year, Foodstuffs, (which owns New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square), committed to ending the sale of cage eggs by 2027. This was followed by FreshChoice and SuperValue, also owned by Countdown, committing to cage-free eggs.
These commitments were in response to the public desire to stop the suffering of hens in all types of cages and buying habits reflect this. According to Countdown, there has been a 93 per cent increase in customer demand for cage-free eggs since 2016.
What can be used as egg substitutes?
More and more people have been prompted by the recent low availability of eggs, into finding alternatives.
Eggs can be replaced in baking with substitutes such as mashed banana, apple sauce and ground flaxseeds mixed with water. A seemingly miraculous ingredient called aquafaba – the liquid left over from a can of chickpeas – is popular, which can be used as straight brine as the egg sub or sweetened and whipped. Another handy product option is Orgran Easy Egg. You can learn how to use these egg replacements.
There is also this list of alternatives as well as some egg-free recipes to try. If you are looking to replace eggs, a quick google for your favourite dish + ‘vegan’ will reveal numerous egg-free recipes.
This might be the first step to finding your new favourite foods.