Countdown – ‘Use the Force’ to make positive change for the future

I see that Countdown has just launched a new range of collectables: Star Wars Cosmic Shells. But meanwhile they are making excuses rather than taking action about another type of shell: the shells of the cage eggs produced at the expense of appalling suffering inflicted on hens.

Yoda_blogSAFE has a history dating back several years of meeting with Countdown, asking the supermarket giant to move away from selling cage eggs. But they haven’t been listening. So at the start of 2016, we launched the CountdownToCageFree campaign.

I would like to think that Countdown wants to do the right thing. But what appears to be happening, is that they are doing everything they can to make excuses and are even deliberately misleading their customers over why they are still supporting a very cruel industry.

No excuse for omitting the truth

Back in Feb 2016, Countdown was answering consumers’ requests for change with the line, “the New Zealand egg industry has already committed to phasing out cage eggs by 2022”.

Nah, not really true that one, is it Countdown? The reality is that the NZ egg industry must phase out standard battery cages by 2022, but they are just being replaced with another type of cage, the colony battery cage. That’s the important fact that Countdown left out!

Several months on, and the excuses are coming thick and fast……

Excuse number 1 – Countdown says: There are not enough supplies of free-range eggs

This may be the case right at this present moment, but it is irrelevant! SAFE and compassionate consumers are not asking Countdown to stop selling cage eggs today. We are asking them to ‘name the date’ they will go cage-free, (just as their parent company Woolworths in Australia has named the date of 2018 for when they will be cage-free). This phase-out period gives the egg industry time to transition away from cage systems, in the same way as is already happening overseas.

Countdown tends to imply that they only have two options: cage eggs or free-range eggs.

However, the campaign is asking them not to stock cage eggs. This means they also have an option to transition a bigger percentage of their stocks to barn eggs, than they currently have.

Excuse number 2 – Countdown says: We can’t control the supply of eggs

Hens in colony cages

Countdown has stated that they sell approximately 18% of all the cage eggs in NZ: almost 1 in every 5. Supermarkets are very influential at influencing their supply chains. When they ‘name the date’, Countdown will give a strong signal to the egg industry not to spend approximately $150 million on switching to the new colony cages, which they will have to do by 2022 if they are going to remain with cage systems. If colony cages become well established in the egg industry, hens will be suffering in cages for decades, despite the majority of consumers being strongly against this type of animal cruelty!

Excuse number 3 – Countdown says: Australia has higher stocking densities for free-range, so it makes it more expensive/impossible for NZ to go totally free-range

While it is true that Australia has higher stocking densities for free-range, New Zealand has the same stocking density regulations as they do in Europe. Since a huge number of European supermarket chains have already named the date or already stopped selling all cage eggs, including Danish, Dutch and Austrian chains, and most in the UK, Belgium and Germany, what are we waiting for in New Zealand?

Excuse number 4 –  Countdown says: we are providing choice for low-income customers

This is an excuse that has been used by many big supermarket chains to delay announcing an end date of the sale of cage eggs! But hang-on, is Countdown saying that Woolworths and Walmart (known to be a budget US chain), don’t have low-income customers or don’t care about their low-income customers? Or perhaps they are saying that people on low incomes don’t care about hens?

The reality is that prices of most products already cover the extra costs of environmental or human rights initiatives, or health and safety issues. Prices also rise when commodity prices, such as grain, go up. So why is Countdown excluding animal welfare 3 chicksas an important issue that should be affecting price? After all, eggs cost comparatively less than a third of what they cost 50 years ago, purely because the industry has kept the price low by the appalling way they keep caged hens. Even Consumer New Zealand, a consumer advocacy organisation, says cage eggs need to go!

Let’s also remember that there are plenty of healthy, cheap alternatives to eggs as a protein source, as well as substitutes for replacing eggs in cooking. So whatever the budget, there’s no reason to miss out on anything except funding animal cruelty.

The fact is that Countdown is not listening to their customers. There have been daily requests and complaints on their Facebook page about this issue. Surveys in 2011 and 2014 have shown that the majority of NZ consumers do not want hens in cages: battery cages OR colony cages. Supermarkets make choices all the time about what products they sell and don’t sell. It’s time for Countdown to make choices that will stop the suffering for hens.

So, Countdown, enough of the excuses! You imply that you are trying to do the right thing. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Come on Countdown – it’s time to DO the right thing and drop cage eggs.

You can help take action for hens by emailing Countdown.


Marianne Macdonald – SAFE Campaigns Officer



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