When animal welfare becomes a political football, consumers look towards food brands for action on animal welfare.

Two images. One is of two piglets on their hind legs leaning over a wooden fence post. The second is a grey furred greyhound sitting in some grass.

Animal welfare has long been a contentious issue in New Zealand politics, with many election promises made but little action taken. Now, with the Government’s delays in yet another animal welfare improvement, consumers are looking to food brands for action on animal welfare.

Last week, it was reported that the Government was delaying the decision on the future of greyhound racing review until after the election. This comes after the Government also delayed the promised review of farrowing crates and mating stalls (used to confine mother pigs). 

The greyhound racing industry has long been plagued with issues of animal cruelty, and the use of farrowing crates in pig farming has been widely criticised for its inhumane treatment of animals. The delay in these two reviews only prolongs the suffering of these animals.

A screenshot of a news story from Stuff.co.nz the headline is 'Decision on greyhound racing's future delayed' it was written by George Heagney and it has an image of three greyhounds with bright coloured bibs running around a track.

The ban on live export by sea was the one significant achievement by the Government in the last two terms. But is now looking like it could be sunk by National and Act promising to overturn the ban.

With animals unable to vote, and the back and forth of political football, it’s not surprising that more and more people are turning elsewhere to see progress for animals.

Many supermarkets and food brands in New Zealand have made promises to sell only cage-free eggs, free-farmed fresh pork, or free-range meat. This trend is only going to continue, with all supermarkets in New Zealand set to sell only cage-free eggs by 2027. Even KFC has committed to using only cage-free eggs globally. 

In recent years, the attention has been turning towards how food brands can help chickens bred for meat. A recent report by the European Food Safety Authority has called current chicken farming standards into question. Despite being one of the most numerous farmed animals in NZ, the Government standards for these birds haven’t been reviewed in over 10 years (another review that has been delayed and delayed by the Government). Our standards are currently way out of step with modern animal welfare science.

A close up shot that focuses on one white feathered chicken sitting down with a sea of white feathered chickens behind her. She has one leg tucked unnaturally under her body and her feathers have a dirty brown colour from sitting on the mucky floor. 
Text next to her reads "Unnatural chicken breeds used on NZ farms"
Image credit – Farmwatch

Domino’s became the first company in New Zealand to recognise the need for change when, at the end of 2021, they announced they would be signing the Better Chicken Commitment for all their stores in New Zealand and Australia. This means a promise to supply chicken meat only from farms with higher animal welfare standards. My Food Bag and HelloFresh also signed up to this commitment in 2022.

Update: As of August 2023, The Coffee Club, Bird On A Wire, Columbus Coffee and Mexico have committed to the BCC in New Zealand.

The Better Chicken Commitment is quickly becoming the gold-standard for companies that care about animal welfare. These standards explicitly ban the use of abnormally fast-growing chicken breeds, who have suffering coded into their DNA. These breeds of chickens grow so big and so fast that many suffer chronic pain and lameness. Six years ago, the Government’s advisors said they had concerns about these breeds, but nothing has been done. I’m thankful for the almost 600 food companies worldwide that have signed up to these standards and demanded better, when governments clearly won’t.

Three screenshots from HelloFresh, My Food Bag and Domino's websites showing their statements announcing their have signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment.

As citizens, we have the power to bring about change with or without the Government. We can choose to support businesses that prioritise animal welfare. We can choose to boycott businesses that engage in practices that are cruel to animals. Our choices can have a significant impact on the way animals are treated. If we get the big brands on board, the farms will have to follow. 

Animal welfare is not just a political issue. It is a societal issue. I hope that one day the Government will stop being beholden to the animal agriculture lobbyists and catch up with animal welfare science. For now, I am thankful to all the businesses and individuals taking up the mantle of higher animal welfare, when successive governments (and by the looks of it future governments) continue to fail.

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