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Aotearoa's egg shortage: Can the industry be profitable and ethical?

January 26, 2023

Interview by Troy Matich

Listen to the full interview

Battery-caged hens have been made illegal and Aotearoa is experiencing an egg shortage. Head of Campaigns SAFE for Animals, Jessica Chambers, claims there is no way for the egg industry to be profitable and ethical at the same time. Photo by SAFE For Animals.

A complete ban on battery-caged hens, first announced in 2012, came into effect at the beginning of this year, making them illegal in Aotearoa. 

Head of Campaigns at the animal welfare organisation SAFE for Animals, Jessica Chambers, says this marks a positive change in the welfare expectations for farmed animals. 

The Animal Welfare Act, states that "all animals must have the ability to express normal patterns of behaviour", and battery-cage practices were found to be in breach of this.

“Battery cages are very small metal cages with less space than the size of an A4 sheet of paper for hens to live, eat, drink and lay eggs. Obviously, hens crammed into a battery or colony cage can't express natural behaviours, which is why they were banned," says Chambers.

The government allowed a 10-year phase-out period to give the egg industry time to adjust. 

But since the ban came into effect, eggs have been in short supply around the country, and the few cartons available have risen in price by 16% since November 2022.

According to the SPCA, despite the ban on battery cages, one-third of laying hens are still being farmed in ‘colony’ cages

Chambers argues that colony cages “aren’t any better" than battery cages.

“You have larger cages with even more birds shoved inside of them. So they breach the same laws as battery cages. Around the world, these cages are being banned for the same reason."

Chambers says the government's lack of action on colony cages will cause millions of animals to languish in conditions the law was supposed to protect them from.

“The words 'egg industry’ and ‘ethical’ don’t go together. These animals are being pushed to their physical limits, used up, and thrown away. Commercially farmed hens are and always will be treated like egg farming machines."

SAFE wants to see a ban on all caged farming systems in Aotearoa and suggests that consumers seek cruelty-free egg alternatives.

"They're affordable, taste good, and don't contribute to the exploitation of hens."

Public interest journalism funded by New Zealand On Air