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Why Colony Cages Rather Than Barn-Laid Eggs?

Caged Layer Hens

According to RNZSPCA national accreditation and marketing manager Juliette Banks: “Consumers are becoming far more conscious of where and how their food is produced and they don’t want cages.”
Yet New Zealand farmers are going ahead with installing the ‘colony cages’ approved in the new Layer Hen Code of Welfare. The thing is, the capital investment in changing out one type of cage for a marginally larger one is far greater than converting to a barn set up where the animals are still kept indoors in crowded conditions but are at least not in cages.

Barn Layer Hens

Banks continues: “With a steady annual increase in the free-range egg market it is clear consumers will not accept caged eggs in the future. For the industry to spend millions converting a system that consumers will reject seems pointless.”

Indeed it does. Until we consider that caged hen operations are very large businesses with capital investment that often runs into the millions. Why would these operators be prepared to continue with a more expensive system? Because it provides a very effective barrier to entry for possible competitors. The welfare of the thousands of hens in their care is neither here nor there for these producers. The decision is purely economic. It makes the claim of Egg Producers Federation chairman, Michael Guthrie, that they want to ‘ensure eggs remained affordable during tough economic times’ ring rather hollow.

Animal Welfare on Farms: A lower standard for agricultural animals

A healthy flock of sheep

A report in the Dominion Post this week about a particularly nasty case of criminal neglect of sheep in the Manawatu highlights much of what is wrong with the enforcement and prosecution of animal welfare offences on farms in New Zealand:

75 sheep were found dead and another 25 had to be put down [immediately] because of alleged ill-treatment. SPCA officials raided the farm in August after being tipped off about the sheep. The 66-hectare farm is now under strict monitoring by vets and four SPCA inspectors. It is still being run by the farmer and has several hundred sheep.

Although full details have not yet been divulged by prosecutors, pending the laying of charges, it appears that the sheep were emaciated from starvation and severe neglect. The file is about to be sent to Crown Law for prosecution.

For reasons that will become clear, it is important to note that this was a raid carried out by the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, three bodies are statutorily-empowered to investigate and prosecute animal welfare cases; the Police, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and the SPCA. Only the Police and MAF are fully state-funded, the SPCA relies for 98% of its income on private donations. Continue reading

Cubicle (Factory) Farming and Ministerial ‘Call-Ins’ of Resource Management Consents

Late last year, I posted on the euphemistically-named ‘cubicle’ farming of dairy cows proposed in the South Island’s pristine McKenzie Basin.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has today recommended that Environment Minister, Nick Smith use his call-in powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA) to make a decision on the consents. The Act states:

Section 141B – Minister’s power to call in matters that are or are part of proposals of national significance
In deciding whether a matter is or is part of a proposal of national significance, the Minister may have regard to any relevant factor, including whether the matter—

(a) has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment

Why is this of interest in a blog about animal law?

Well, although about 75% of the large number of submissions received by the Canterbury Regional Council mentioned deleterious effects on the cows, the question has been raised as to whether animal welfare issues can be legitimately considered as an ‘effect’ of dairy farming for the purposes of resource management consents.

The Council has received legal advice that they can not, nor can they provide grounds for a ministerial call-in.

The Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Bryan Jenkins, has said that the animal welfare issue is more appropriately dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA). He also suggested that a stronger argument can be made for damage to New Zealand’s reputation in international dairy markets being an ‘effect’.

This is all the more incredible if we look at the statutory definition of “environment” in the RMA: Continue reading

‘Cubicle’ Dairy Farming: Factory farming by another name

Farmed Cows

'Cubicle' cows in the United States

Intensive indoor farming of dairy cows – which would be a first in New Zealand – is being proposed in South Canterbury’s Mackenzie region.

In this radical departure from current dairying practice in this country – grass-fed Friesians wandering outdoors – three companies: Williamson Holdings LtdSouthdown Holdings, and Five Rivers Ltd (the director of which has an appalling record for pollution of waterways with dairying waste) are each applying for land use consents and effluent discharge consents to establish a total of 16 new farms.

These will house nearly 18,000 cows in so-called ‘cubicle’ shelters for 24 hours a day, eight months of the year. For the remaining four months, the cows will be kept inside for 12 hours a day.

This will produce a quantity of effluent equivalent to that of a city of 270 000 people. This vast quantity of waste will require 414 million litres of effluent storage capacity in ponds. 1.7 million litres of diluted effluent will be deposited on the land on a daily basis in an attempt to make the land fertile enough to grow feed in situ. This is a tall order; the Mackenzie Basin is one of the driest parts of the country and is covered in tussock grass. Until then, feed will be trucked in.

 As with any form of intensive, indoor farming, there are significant welfare issues in housing animals in crowded sheds. Rates of infection are far higher and so greater amounts of antibiotics are generally required to keep the animals healthy. Taking cows, which are at least as intelligent as dogs, and confining them to small spaces is bound to be a traumatic experience. Nevertheless, in a radio interview earlier this week, the President of Federated Farmers, Don Nicholson, when pressed about the total confinement of the cows for eight months of the year made the frankly astonishing argument that:

We live in houses ourselves, we’ve adapted to intensification and I’m sure that farmers of New Zealand want to do their very best for the animals

Continue reading

Veganism and Food Security

Not long ago, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released their annual report on world hunger, The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Unsurprisingly, the Report shed particular light upon the economic crisis and its relation to food security, arguing that it is different to other crises for three reasons. Firstly, it has affected large parts of the world simultaneously, undermining traditional coping mechanisms; second, it followed hot on the heels of the food and fuel crisis of 2006-2008; and third, increased integration of developing economies into the world economy has made them volatile to market activity.  World hunger is on the rise again, cracking 1.02 billion people this year, a sixth of the world’s population. Encouragingly, the FAO recognises that this current state of crisis is primarily structural, reflecting the fragility of our food systems on both a national and global level. While their recommended panaceae (investments in agriculture, the strengthening of social safety nets and the institutionalisation of the right to food) seek to address these problems, they sadly neglect to mention one of the simplest and most effective mechanism for combating world hunger: going vegetarian or vegan.

 

Continue reading

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