Miss Duffield (23) is a final-year law honours student and animal welfare advocate who was last year awarded a $US5000 scholarship by the US-based Animal Legal Defence Fund (ALDF).
The ALDF strives to protect the lives and interests of animals through legal means. As an agricultural producer, New Zealand relied on its reputation as a ''leader in animal welfare standards,'' she said in an interview.
An article in The New York Times late last year had challenged New Zealand's ''clean green'' reputation.
Similar challenges to the country's international image could arise if New Zealand failed ''to improve animal welfare standards for farm animals to keep up with the EU''.
New Zealand's Animal Welfare Act, of 1999, had been ''quite progressive'' at the time but many problems now had to be resolved.
The legislation recognised ''five freedoms'', including the opportunity to display ''normal patterns of behaviour''. But a key problem with the existing law was that minimum standards for animals specified in the accompanying ''codes of welfare'' were not fully consistent with the law's ''five freedoms''.
The Ministry for Primary Industry consulted the public last year on changes to the legislation, and the Cabinet is expected to consider them early this year.
An earlier EU directive to phase out battery cages had fully come into effect last year, meaning the EU was ''a decade ahead of New Zealand'' in moving away from from battery cages, she said.
Germany, Austria and Switzerland had already banned the larger colony cages.
''These bans on cage systems entirely will take effect around the time of New Zealand's move into colony cages -leaving New Zealand's farming systems morally backwards in the eyes of overseas consumers.''
New Zealanders were also increasingly concerned about animal welfare and recently released hen codes were ''unlikely to meet these public expectations''. Farmers were concerned about the high costs of cage changes but that cost would be minimised by ''making just one transition'' - from battery cages to cage-free systems, she said.