Caged for life

In December 2012 the government released a new welfare code for ‘layer’ hens that bans the standard battery cage (from 2022) yet allows a new kind of cage, the colony battery cage – a cage system that a number of other countries are already moving away from.

Colony cages are illegal in Switzerland; Austria has banned all colony cages by 2020; Belgium by 2024. Supermarkets in Germany and the Netherlands refuse to sell colony cage-produced eggs. The government intends for these cages to become the norm for New Zealand cage egg producers by 2022.

The new colony battery cages allowed in the welfare code still breach the law (Animal Welfare Act) as they do not allow the hens to express their normal behaviours. Despite thousands of years of selective breeding, hens have retained virtually all their natural instincts, and behaviours are so deeply engrained that the desire to carry them out overrides all else.

Natural behaviour for a layer hen includes walking, wing flapping, nesting and dust bathing, perching, pecking and scratching – all of which are denied or severely restricted in a colony cage.

"Research into housing for laying hens carried out over the past 30 years has concluded that the behavioural needs of hens are simply not met when they are caged. Scientists around the world, have shown that hens are highly motivated to; build a nest before laying, perch, flap their wings, dustbathe and to live in small stable groups, and that they suffer when being denied the opportunity to do so. In my opinion we don’t need to carry out more research to understand what hens need for positive welfare. What we need is the implementation of housing conditions that permit hens to provide us with the eggs we want to eat, whilst also providing them with a good quality of life."

Professor Nat Waran, International Animal Welfare Scientist (2017).