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Egg industry scrambled by changing rules

In brief

  • Well intentioned “lifestyle” improvement for birds, but farmers are collateral damage.
  • Eggs are now being rationed and the shortage is expected to last 5 months. 
  • Even with years notice, the transition is not going smoothly.

Industry faces eggsistential crisis

The National led Government announced in 2012 that battery farms would be illegal in ten years. Over three quarters of farmers were affected by the ban, with the cost of changing in the millions for the big farms.

However, after just five years, after about a third of these had switched to the approved colony farms, supermarkets announced that in 10-12 years they would stop buying eggs from colony farms as well. This meant it was no longer worth farmers transitioning to colony cages.

This further restriction was apparently in response to pressure from animal rights group SAFE, who changed tactics to lobby supermarkets in addition to the Government. In 2017 the Labour and Green parties also announced their intent to ban colony farms, acting as another warning bell for farmers, although no legal change has transpired.

Maybe a lifestyle win for birds, but not for farmers

SAFE say colony cages still breach the Animal Welfare Act 1999 because “they do not allow hens to express their natural behaviour”. The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Animal Welfare Committee considers them acceptable as does NZ’s Egg Producers Federation. Hawkes Bay Eggs farmer Laurie Horsfall says the majority of chickens in the free range system never go outside. “It’s either too hot or it’s raining or they just want to stay inside. It makes a bit of a joke about the whole thing really.”

Some who didn’t switch can’t make the other alternatives, such as free range, work. In addition, there is wariness about having the rules change in the middle of the game.

This change was made to help chickens, but how many chickens died young as a result? The country has lost 20% of its laying hens – 800,000 birds down over the past 18 months.

Supermarkets are now rationing egg sales to consumers and people are buying hens to lay their own. Eggs are selling in some places for over $15 a dozen. High prices do have a way of increasing supply and decreasing demand.

The shortage is expected to last around five months. Hens must be raised locally due to biosecurity rules.

Our previous article on this topic

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