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.
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.