Objectively speaking it should be a simple proposition – 8 out of 10 New Zealanders say they are opposed to the use of battery cages, so lets phase them out, and lets ban all cages while we’re about it.
It’s not a welfare argument anymore, as everyone agrees the old cages are shameful, hidden away in dark sheds – and farmers don’t even want us to see the proposed new systems which are supposedly the latest in hen welfare (yeah right!).
‘What about a cheap supply of protein?’ say the industry. ‘What about the poor and marginalised of this country, struggling to afford the simple basics of life?’ they chirp.
For a start this is obviously false concern. The number of eggs bought relates directly to how much profit goes into the pockets of these egg producers. It’s a business in which the objective is to continually increase consumption and sell as many eggs as possible. It’s done by keeping egg prices low – which is done by keeping production costs low and output high. Nothing wrong with making a profit of course, but not at the cost of animal welfare.
And there’s a number of other reasons that make this a false argument, designed to distract us from the cruelty involved.
There is no lack of protein in the New Zealand diet (when was the last time you met someone with a protein deficiency?). There are plenty of cheap protein sources available without subsidising one single product with cruelty. And there is no need to keep actually increasing the consumption of eggs, as has been happening over the last two decades.
In terms of life in the real world, the removal of these super cheap eggs is absorbed into a consumer’s supermarket shop. There are already supermarkets in this country that have made the move away from offering cage eggs, they have ensured a secure supply and it hasn’t affected sales – and they actually sell as well as any other supermarket.
Actually it seems people on low incomes are ethical shoppers too, it’s not a ‘privilege’ of the few. Shoppers can prioritise and choose wisely, and of course, compassion is not directly related to income – often it is demonstrated as the reverse [a topic deserving of its own blog post]. Many more ordinary Kiwis choose not to give their family products from this system of cruelty.
And finally, this comparison between egg prices becomes irrelevant with the possible introduction of colony cages – prices are set to go up with a change in systems. The question really is, why introduce a new cage system which is not yet in New Zealand, is almost as cruel as battery cages, could potentially be found to break the Animal Welfare Act in a few years time, is leaving the industry open to protest from animal welfare groups, has been banned in other countries AND severely restricts the animals’ natural behaviours??
By recommending the introduction of colony cages in its draft report, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) is playing a role in supporting industry profits, not its stated role to protect animal welfare. There is no mandate for it to keep egg prices artificially low, and it should look at this issue objectively: hens don’t belong in cages.
Eliot Pryor – SAFE campaign director