The phasing out of battery cages for hens from 2016 is set
out in a new code of welfare for layer hens, but some
producers fear the move will cause major disruption to the
egg industry. Sally Rae reports.
Egg Producers Federation chairman Michael Guthrie fears New
Zealand's egg farmers may have been ''set up to fail''.
He believes a ''punitive'' phase-out period for conventional
cages for layer hens will mean a significant number of
farmers could quit the industry.
The Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2012,
released last week, will allow layer hens to be kept in
colony cages - a larger cage system that meets the
requirements of the Animal Welfare Act - or in barn or
The Egg Producers Federation (EPF) has told Primary
Industries Minister David Carter that the phase-out programme
outlined ''simply cannot be achieved'' and warned the result
would be ''major disruption'' to the egg supply.
When contacted, Mr Carter said the Government acknowledged
the phase-out period would be ''challenging'' for industry,
but believed it was possible to achieve.
Mr Guthrie, who is also managing director of Otago-based
Mainland Poultry, stressed the EPF did not have a gripe with
the code itself. Farmers had come to terms with the scale of
the change and had accepted it.
Phasing out controversial conventional, or battery, cages
meant the industry would be able to leave behind the
''negative connotations'' of cages and operate in a modern
environment of colonies, barn and free range.
But the EPF assessed the phase-out period, in practical
terms, to be more like four to six years, not the 10 years
That was ''impossible'' to achieve, both in practical and
financial terms, and would have an enormous, possibly even
crippling effect, on many in the industry, Mr Guthrie said.
The industry had recommended a gradual phase-out over 17
years designed to minimise disruption and in which the
majority were transitioned in 10 to 12 years.
The phase-out timetable in the code involved the first set of
cages coming up for replacement in 2016. By 2018, the
proportion of cages required to have been replaced would have
moved up to 50%.
The federation expected ''chaos'' in 2016 which was likely to
continue for some time. Budget-conscious consumers would lose
an affordable source of ''excellent nutrition'' and, for most
farmers, it would involve the loss of their livelihood, he
Mr Carter said he, the Ministry for Primary Industries and
the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (Nawac) were
very aware the move away from battery cages would impose
costs on farms and the decision to phase out the cages was
not taken lightly.
''Public opinion and scientific evidence have made it clear
that we need better alternatives to battery cages. The
overall cost to producers is reasonable when weighed against
the welfare gains of the new code.''
There was a welfare benefit to managing the transition in
stages because birds were removed from the oldest cages
sooner, and farmers could change their systems over time.
Banning battery cages completely on a single date would
create ''huge disruption'' to the egg industry, Mr Carter
Mr Guthrie did not believe those behind setting the phase-out
programme had quantified what was required.
Farmers using conventional cages, which in volume terms was
more than 80% of the industry, would have to rebuild their
operations ''from scratch'',most on a different site andthere
would be very little ofmost current operations that could be
That involved acquisition of land, gaining of consents, site
preparation, supply of equipment - which with international
demand could take a minimum of two years - and supply chain
implications such as rejigging the rearing process.
Most poultry farms were built on intensive farms, not on
large tracts of land.
''They can't cut a hole in the barn and say `go free','' he
Assuming most cage farmers moved to colonies, the EPF's
preliminary estimates of the cost of transition to farmers
would start at $150 million ''and go up from there''. That
cost would be spread across just 42 farmers.
A transition to free range would involve an estimated 70%
more capital cost, topping $250 million.
The industry was unable to assess how many farmers would move
to the new colony system and how many would adopt free-range
or barn farming.
Mr Guthrie described it as ''harsh and punitive'' for an
industry that had been actively working with the Government,
had invested significant money and effort in research into
modern farming systems, and actively sought to modernise its
Even if financial constraints were not an issue - which they
were - then it was a ''whole paradigm'' shift in how people
It was ''not the industry screaming and saying we want to
have more time before we change''. The industry wanted to
change - ''you show me a farmer that doesn't want to improve
the way they farm'' - but needed more time to sustainably
manage the change, he said.
He quoted a report from Nawac chairman Dr John Hellstrom,
released in June this year, that said a transition period of
less than eight years was considered neither feasible nor
Mr Guthrie questioned where the industry was going to borrow
money from, saying banks were not lending and the low
profitability record of the industry exacerbated that
Farmers had never asked for compensation or a subsidy and it
was an industry that was willing to reinvest in itself. It
had engaged with the ministry over the five-year period of
the review and constantly talked about the transition.
Farmers wanted to work with the ministry, not against it, he
With more than a billion eggs eaten annually in New Zealand,
they were a vital part of the national diet.
Obesity and health issues were highlighted in the media on a
regular basis. Eggs were a ''perfect food'' and as far as Mr
Guthrie was concerned, not a discretionary spend.
''Egg to me is a God-given right,'' he said.
For Mainland Poultry, the new era was a ''step change''.
While the time frame was ''impossible'', the company had ''no
intention of packing our bags at all''.
The company was bringing out a family of products, such as
liquid egg white, for people who wanted protein but could not
Liquid egg white had been selling in Australia for more than
a year and has just been launched on to the New Zealand
market, in Countdown supermarkets. About 80 tonnes of egg
product was produced a week from plants in Waikouaiti and
The company also had a feed division and it was the biggest
supplier of layer poultry feed in New Zealand.
A by-product of the poultry operation was manure, which was
very high in NPK and a natural fertiliser. In the future, the
company was looking at turning that into generating gas and
While the future was exciting, the company's core business
was egg production, he said.