I will be analysing the ethical issue of caged egg production in New Zealand. Caged egg production raises the ethical issue of the welfare of the hens, and the impacts that caged egg production has on individuals and society. The first hens were brought to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in 1773, and centuries on they are one of the most important sources of food for our country, providing vital protein and nutrients at an affordable price (Teara, 2012).
New Zealanders are now eating around 226 eggs per person per year, more than double the 100 we were eating in the early 20th century when most people relied on backyard coops and small free-range operations. As the demand for eggs has grown, our farming methods have had to evolve and expand in order to meet the nation’s need for around one billion eggs per year, there are currently 3 million caged hens in New Zealand (Egg Producers Federation, 2013).
Cage or battery farms supply 89% of eggs in New Zealand, freerange farms supply 9. % of eggs in New Zealand and barn production systems supply 1. 4% of eggs, where the birds live inside a shed fitted with nest boxes and perches (Teara, 2012). Caged hens can’t do most of the things that hens do in a natural environment. They stand on sloping mesh floors which causes considerable discomfort and often leads to foot injuries and sore feet. If they want to move or turn around all the other birds have to move as well, so it is a constantly restless as well as stressful environment (Greens, 2011).
At about five days old most battery chicks have at least half of their beaks cut off, a mutilation that is carried out to stop the hens pecking each other to death as a result of the overcrowded, stressful and boring living conditions. Ordinarily, hens will lay eggs only during the summer months. However, on battery hen farms, lights are kept on for up to 16 hours a day so the hens think it is summer and continue producing eggs all year round. But calcium depletion due to the high number of eggs each hen lays, together with the lack of exercise, can lead to osteoporosis and result in weak and broken bones (Greens, 2011).
Caged hens only have a floor space of 400cm2, smaller than an A4 piece of paper. While the majority of New Zealand’s eggs is currently farmed in conventional cages, these are due to be phased out of use by 2022. Under the new Code of Welfare for Layer Hens, farmers cannot install new conventional cages and must begin decommissioning existing conventional cages (depending on their age) from 2018 (Egg Producers Federation, 2013). Colony cages do not provide the hens with sufficient space. The 600 square centimeters of usable space (still smaller than an A4 sheet of paper) is barely larger than the space the hens have in existing cages.
Hens in colony cages are still kept inside small cages inside semi-dark sheds. They stand on an uncomfortable sloping wire floor and will never enjoy the sunshine or the ability to live as nature intended (SAFE, 2013). By and large there is a very positive reaction to the Enriched Colony housing method. It is widely seen as a move in the right direction (QZONE, 2010). Egg production in New Zealand is a controversial issue because all methods of egg production can have positives and negative effects on the welfare of the hens, the farmers, corporations, and society.
There are many differing views on the ethics of egg production. SAFE (Save Animals From Exploitation) is New Zealand’s leading animal advocacy organisation. Founded in 1932, SAFE aims to make significant improvements to the lives of animals by raising awareness, challenging cruel practices and changing attitudes (SAFE, n. d). Safe opposes the practice of using caged chickens to produce eggs in an intensive manner, as Safe values the welfare of the animals. Safe believe that caged hens spend their entire lives mistreated and abused.
They believe that the welfare of the chickens is more important than the economic benefits that caged hens have on the consumer, farmers and companies. SAFE is concerned at continued hen suffering, both until this date, and in the new colony battery cages that the Government has decided to allow as the replacement. SAFE believes that the new colony battery cages allowed in the welfare code are not an acceptable alternative to existing battery hen cages. SAFE have stated that “These new modified cages still breach the law (Animal Welfare Act) as they do not allow the hens to express their normal behaviours” (SAFE, n. (2).
As an animal advocacy organisation dedicated to helping to save animals from cruelty, SAFE promotes a positive lifestyle that does not use animals for food. SAFE believes the simplest way to help animals is not to eat them. SAFE’s attitudes, values and beliefs towards this issue is made public by their television adverts, protests, frequent comments on animal welfare situations and also the information provided on their website. The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a voluntary organisation which oppose caged egg production in New Zealand.
The Royal New Zealand SPCA’s mission is to “advance the welfare of all animals in New Zealand by; Preventing cruelty to animals, alleviating suffering of animals and promoting our policies through education and advocacy” (RNZSPCA, 2015). The Royal New Zealand SPCA has shown their support for free range farming by creating the ‘Blue Tick’. The SPCA Blue Tick is an Accreditation Scheme run by the Royal New Zealand SPCA, which certifies that animal products such as eggs, pork, chicken and turkey, are farmed to their high welfare standards.
The SPCA Blue Tick logo offers consumers a guarantee that the product they are choosing has been farmed humanely. All producers who wish to be a part of the SPCA Blue Tick Accreditation Scheme must adhere to our high welfare standards to ensure that their animals are treated in a crueltyfree manner (RNZSPCA, n. d). The Blue Tick supports the five freedoms, Freedom from Hunger and Thirst; Freedom from Discomfort; Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease; Freedom to Express Natural Behaviour and Freedom from Fear and Distress.