20 September 2004
Bare Facts Rather Than Bare Bodies
Bare facts rather than bare bodies will throw much more light on the ethics of cage production of eggs, says Michael
Brooks, executive director of the Egg Producers Federation, in response to a campaign against cage production by
activist organisation SAFE reportedly involving four Auckland models - Nicky Watson, Charlotte Dawson, Aja Rock and Eva
“This sort of publicity-seeking trivialises a very important issue,” says Mr Brooks.
“This is an issue of the right of consumers to choose what sort of product they wish to buy. At present less than 6% of
eggs purchased are free-range. Over 92% are from caged hens with the balance barn-raised. Eggs are a vital and low cost
source of protein consumed particularly by low socio-economic groups who cannot necessarily afford the much greater cost
of free range eggs.
“The public may say that they disapprove of caging in a telephone survey, but every day at the supermarket they buy
caged produced eggs.
“It is also an issue of the right to farm and behind the industry are families, individuals and communities that rely on
egg production for their livelihood.
“If we are to take actions that ultimately destroy an industry, we need to have very good reasons. Most of the arguments
put forward by animal welfare activists simply do not stand up to scientific analysis,” says Mr Brooks.
To clarify a number of points:
Birds are not crammed into an individual cage the same size as their bodies. This is not the case and has never been the
case. Larger cages can have up to seven hens in them providing room for each bird to move around. Changes to practice
over the next four years will provide 22% more space per bird. Nearly a third of hens already have this amount of space.
Birds’ beaks are not removed and never have been. In fact, less than 40% of caged hens have the tips of their beaks
trimmed – a process undertaken as small chickens when the beak is soft and there is little or no pain. It is a humane
practice designed to avoid feather pecking and cannabalism. It is anticipated modern farming practice will no longer
require beak trimming. Beak trimming is also practised on free range farms for the same reason.
“The claim that the world is moving away from cages is a gross exaggeration. Countries such as Switzerland and Austria
(which has a very small egg industry) have banned cages, but a huge proportion of the eggs sold in these countries are
cage produced and imported from other countries. Why? Because the consumer wants a low cost egg. The same would happen
in New Zealand. At present it is illegal to import eggs here to protect us from exotic diseases. Do we want these
diseases in New Zealand?” asks Mr Brooks.
Cages are the dominant production system throughout the world in North America, Australia and Eastern and Southern
Europe and even Northern Europe and the United Kingdom.
“The point is that these matters are not simple or black and white, as the activists lead us to believe. They are trying
to turn this issue into one of heroes and villains which is totally inappropriate and unhelpful.
“It is best to have an independent body of scientists, veterinarians and ethicists looking at these matters. This is
the role of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee which has developed a Code of Animal Welfare soon to be
released,” says Mr Brooks.