On location: the blockade for hens

Last week three activists, representing grassroots animal advocacy groups under the umbrella of the Coalition to End Factory Farming, spent the day seven metres up in the air atop tripod structures. They were there to blockade the entrance to the biggest battery farm in the country, which is also the location of the government-funded colony battery cage trial.

Blocking the trucks

Aware of the likelihood of being arrested, they risked injury and hypothermia to protest against what they see as a huge injustice –  the cruel mistreatment of layer hens for the production of cheap eggs.

I was on location as part of their support team and watched as events unfolded. Whilst it was still dark and we were setting up we heard the sounds of 400,000 hens as the artificial lights turned on, which reminded us precisely of those we were there for.

It was an exciting day, with huge media and public interest and support.  Many hundreds of people did their bit to help the hens too, by sending emails directly to the Minister asking him to ban all cages for hens. I spent a lot of the time in the beaten-up old van being used as a media centre, doing some interviews and updating the virtual world. Not quite so glamorous!

The three activists stayed up longer than expected, and for most of the day blocked the entry of the trucks that would have been picking up the cage eggs. At the end of the day the three were released without charge.

Early morning blockade

We are defined by the way we treat animals

While SAFE will always use exposure of cruelty, education, lobbying and other forms of public outreach as its main tools, there will be times when protest is necessary to create a spark.

New Zealand has a strong tradition of civil disobedience. When we look back at the Springbok tour protesters we now see them as heroes who stood up for a just cause when they were called upon.

If colony cages are allowed to continue then public discord and protest will only continue, and potentially escalate. Animal welfare is growing in the public consciousness as an integral part of who we are, and it’s an issue that is fast becoming a touchstone for how we see ourselves as Kiwis. We believe animals should be treated with the respect and fairness we give to each other.

Colony cage, New Zealand

Most Kiwis would be shocked to see the reality of factory farming in this country. Chickens in cages so small they cannot flap their wings, pigs who can’t even turn around, animals unable to express even their most basic natural behaviour – it’s no kind of life.

While news media were attracted to the danger and excitement of the action, the protest was successful in refocussing attention on the cruelty of the proposed colony battery cages. What many journalists were surprised to hear was that the code review is the same one that was started in February last year, over a year ago. The welfare of caged hens is not a priority for this government.

Entrance locked

Industry spin

On Close Up that evening the industry’s response was to claim that cheap eggs were a necessary evil in order to provide eggs for the less well-off. However the present cost of cage eggs is suppressed at low levels because they do not account for animal welfare. Mass production of cruel eggs are not a public service to fight poverty, but rather to provide huge profits for the big egg producers –  cage eggs still represent 88% of national production. See my previous post for more thoughts on this topic.

Industry representatives also tried to explain away the difference between the undercover footage of colony battery cages exposed on Campbell Livein March, and the nice showreel provided by the industry. It was said the activists disturbed the animals, but even if this was true, what shocks me, and I suspect most people that see the reality, is the intense overcrowding of the cages. There really is no space for the hens to move without disturbing another bird. A colony battery cage looks just like any standard battery cage.

Cheap eggs

The industry continues to deny media access with cameras, and this was the reason for obtaining and exposing the footage. Factory farming can only exist when it is kept hidden.

At the end of the day

Consumers decide

Of course this protest was just for a day – today and every other day those trucks pick up the eggs and deliver them to your local supermarket, where our friends, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances buy them. It’s in the hands of each individual to end battery cages, and all factory farming. Help spread the word of cage-egg cruelty.

Eliot Pryor, SAFE Campaign director

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