ANIMALS LET DOWN BY THE LAW
SAFE launched the campaign to ban battery cages over twenty-five years ago. With the majority of New Zealanders opposed to cages, numerous changes to animal welfare laws, and a recent admission by the egg industry that current cages are no longer acceptable, why are battery hen cages still legal?
Welfare code review a chance for change?
The government is in the process of reviewing the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2011, which will determine the conditions that egg-laying hens are farmed for decades to come.
During the public submission consultation, which finished in April 2011, 36,500 New Zealanders declared their opposition to cages. Meanwhile SAFE, backed by the country's other two prominent animal advocacy organisations, the RNZSPCA and WSPA, condemned recommendations made by the egg industry to introduce colony cages, stating that any kind of cage is cruel and unacceptable.
Unfortunately, while the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) acknowledged that existing cages fail to meet the behavioural needs of hens, the draft code recommends replacing existing cages with a modified cage system, called colony cages.
Journalist and lawyer, Catriona McClennan, quite rightly says the draft code is in breach of the law as it puts the economic interests of farmers above the welfare of the animals. She writes:
"There is nothing here which provides that the economic interests of egg producers are to be elevated to the primary consideration under the law. Nothing in the rest of the legislation permits that to be done either." Read full story.
How the code process works?
The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) is the body that advises the Minister of Agriculture on setting minimum animal welfare standards that relate to the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (Act).
In February 2011 NAWAC released the draft code on layer hens and in a few months they will provide a final draft code, after taking into consideration public submissions. The Minister of Primary Industries will then make a final decision that will determine the minimum standards of farming layer hens in New Zealand. If it is ‘business as normal' then chickens will be forced to live in cages indefinitely. The egg industry will continue to use standard battery cages for up to 20 years and only then will they be replaced with colony cages.
While the Act clearly states that animals must be given the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour, the specific guidelines for individual animals are set out in the Codes of Welfare, which do not always meet this principle.
For example the use of farrowing crates for pigs has been allowed to continue indefinitely under clause 73 (3) which permits ‘in exceptional circumstances' practices that do not meet the purposes of the Act. This clause has been used to allow the continuation as normal of cruel farming practices, in the economic interests of industries.
Besides this, NAWAC has often allowed the industries concerned to prepare the draft codes of welfare. In the case of this present review, the draft provides a financial analysis commissioned by the industry that shows the costs to the industry of moving to colony cages systems. NAWAC has expressly refused to conduct financial analysis on a move to non-cage systems, saying it is simply not an option.
SAFE believes that while the purpose of NAWAC should be to determine good welfare for animals, it is overly influenced and guided by the economic interests of industries, and it is the animals that suffer as a result.
A shameful history
Over many sorry years there has been various opportunities to improve welfare conditions for hens, however all but minimal change has been stalled. Here is a summary of events:
• In 1993, 368,000 people signed a petition seeking a referendum demanding the abolition of battery cages.
• In 2002, during the last code review, 120,000 submissions were received asking for a ban on battery cages but these were completely ignored.
• In 2005, NAWAC declared that individual space per hen of 450cm2 was insufficient and that 550cm2 of space needed to be introduced by 2014.
• In 2011, NAWAC has suggested that 550cm2 is not sufficient for good welfare, but 750cm2 of individual space in the new colony cages is. It must be noted that 750cm is still only marginally larger than an A4 sheet of paper.
SAFE in its submission on the draft code has asked for a phase out of battery cages by no more than 5 years.
SAFE also points out that colony cage systems do not meet adequate welfare, and do not meet the standards of the Act.
Click here to download SAFE's submission against battery hen cages. Click here to download SAFE's supplementary submission prepared by Barrister Gillian Coumbe, addressing legal issues relating to the above code.