Industrial scale egg production is cruel, that’s the real problem

By   /   March 18, 2017  /   10 Comments

TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

The fact that most of the billion eggs produced and sold in New Zealand are generated through the cruel mistreatment and industrial commodification of hens, is a greater issue than that a relatively smaller percentage of them were mislabeled as free range when in fact they were from cages.

The media exposed a ‘scandal’ this week that millions of eggs have been sold to discerning consumers as free range, that were actually just repackaged eggs from caged hens. Consumer rights have been breached. False claims have been made. Consumers and the system have been rorted. But the dominant narrative, that this is primarily a betrayal of consumer rights and confidence, misses the point.

What really matters is that millions of hens are treated like industrial producers pumping out eggs in inhumane conditions, but price is a more important factor for most New Zealanders than animal welfare. The issue isn’t just that yet another ‘rogue operator’ has been caught out lying, exploiting consumers’ good intentions. The question isn’t just, how many ‘rogue operators’ does it take until we realise we have a systemic problem. The real point is that we support an industry that keeps hens in tiny cages in the worst case, most common scenario, and that barn and even ‘free range’ hens may never see the sky or have real opportunity to carry out usual behaviours like foraging and bathing in the dust.

New Zealanders consume about a billion eggs a year, and eggs from caged hens make up about 75% of the market. About 5% of laying hens live in barns, and about 19% are what’s vaguely ‘free range’. Organic eggs make up about 1% of egg sales. That means most egg buying New Zealanders don’t care enough or can’t afford to pay more for eggs that support hens’ wellbeing, natural living and freedom.

This week’s scandal has arisen because a major egg supplier was making a conservative estimate of $14,000 extra a week from buying caged hen eggs and repackaging and on-selling the eggs as free range. It’s a breach of faith. An economic lie.

Consumers had been led to believe that by buying free range eggs they really were supporting better quality of life for laying hens. But this week’s revelations have shown that not only is there scope for cynical marketing by unscrupulous egg traders and dealers, but also that loose definitions mean there’s no guarantee of a good life for hens even on ‘free range’ farms, even if you wanted to ‘do the right thing’, by hens and paid more for it. Not only are your eggs not necessarily free range when they’re labelled as such, but your hens are likely to suffer regardless. Even if you think you’re buying free range eggs, you may not be. Free range eggs may come from caged hens, and what is generally classed as free range can come with adverse conditions for hens anyway.

Like with a lot of consumer certification schemes, even the SPCA’s ‘Blue Tick’ accreditation offers less real assurance or quality control than you’d hope. The SPCA advises consumers to buy carefully, because the term ‘free range can be misleading and doesn’t necessarily lead to enhanced animal welfare’. The SPCA endorses barn egg mass production if the farm ‘meets high animal welfare standards’. According to the SPCA, in Blue Tick certified barns, ‘hens roam freely inside, they have perches to roost on and space to stretch their wings. Nesting boxes provide a quiet space for egg laying and there is floor litter for scratching in’. But Rob Darby from the Free Range Egg NZ Association, (FRENZ) says that egg ‘farms’ accredited by the SPCA are often at industrial scale. With 5-10,000 hens in a barn, and given chicken social structure, the animals are unlikely to get outside, there’s likely to be conflict in the pecking order, there’s overstocking, limited space, insufficient housing, disease, stress and fighting, cruel treatment such as beak trimming, and the health and wellbeing of hens is compromised. The SPCA gets a royalty from every ‘Blue tick’ egg sold, which can also undermine the perceived integrity of the scheme.

When responsibility is shared, there’s a greater chance it will be abrogated, and so it is with the latest revelations about egg misrepresentation. MPI says consumer promises such as ‘free range’ should be upheld by the Commerce Commission via the Fair Trading Act and consumer rights. But according to the Commerce Commission, other than the cases where clear acts of fraud occur, there’s no recourse for labeling eggs as free range, even if the hens never actually get outside because of the sheer number of chickens in one place. As Rob Darby from FRENZ says, just because hens have ‘the opportunity’ to range freely, doesn’t mean they can or do.

In reality, most hens in New Zealand are currently kept in cages, not in barns or free ranging. Under duress, the Government has been forced to change the standards of welfare for chickens, so caged laying hens will be prohibited after 2022.

The Egg Producers Federation are looking at implementing a stamp so eggs can be traced back to source, and production methods verified. Our egg demand continues to rise. Our population-scale egg consumption helps drive massive egg production. But industrial mass production isn’t the only way. FRENZ eggs for example come from many small farms rather than few huge ones as in the conventional model. Backyard chickens make great company and create real quality eggs.

But until proper industry standards are created that provide demonstrable quality of life for hens, where common terms like ‘free range’ conform to a consistent definition, and which creates a level playing field and criteria and therefore pricing structure for eggs, most consumers will continue to follow the money and buy the cheapest eggs on the market, irrespective of the life of hens.

The fact that most of the billion eggs produced and sold in New Zealand are generated through the cruel mistreatment and industrial commodification of hens, is a greater issue than that a relatively smaller percentage of them were mislabeled as free range when in fact they were from cages.

***
Want to support this work? Donate today
***
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook
***

10 Comments

  1. Helena says:

    Cruel treatment just to sell an egg.
    Poison being added to our milk : https://envirowatchrangitikei.wordpress.com/author/jcrv99/
    Animals being killed: https://envirowatchrangitikei.wordpress.com/author/jcrv99/
    Massive poisoning of our foreshore and oceans:
    https://envirowatchrangitikei.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/why-is-there-a-massive-shellfish-die-off-at-nzs-waitarere-beach/
    For the love of this country please everyone write and email the politicians who clearly have sold us out and tell them NO MORE!!
    We have to take back our country before it’s too late.

  2. Sam Sam says:

    Food isn’t food any more. We’ve demanded cheap and convenient food for so long we’ve forgotten how to harvest food, after that cooking meals is easy work.

    I mean how many kiwis know how to pasteurise milk? Im guessing not many, and milk is or largest commodity and we have so much to relearn about it. Craft cheese should be every where and cheap enough so every one can afford cheese boards for breakfast luch and dinner.

    But unfortunately craft products are seasonal and share holders need profits all the time so it dosnt matter what product it is. If it cant maintain a steady renue stream you are not doing to get the investments needed to compete with the big players that dominate the global economy.

    To find good gains you have to turn away from what the big players are doing and focus on niche products the big players ignore.

  3. Mike in Auckland says:

    QUOTE: “What really matters is that millions of hens are treated like industrial producers pumping out eggs in inhumane conditions, but price is a more important factor for most New Zealanders than animal welfare. The issue isn’t just that yet another ‘rogue operator’ has been caught out lying, exploiting consumers’ good intentions. The question isn’t just, how many ‘rogue operators’ does it take until we realise we have a systemic problem. The real point is that we support an industry that keeps hens in tiny cages in the worst case, most common scenario, and that barn and even ‘free range’ hens may never see the sky or have real opportunity to carry out usual behaviours like foraging and bathing in the dust.”

    This is so true, but the problem is that consumers are detached from production, so do not see how their food, in this case their eggs, are being produced.

    At the same time our media is dominated by private media, and thus business lobbies wield a lot of power, as their members pays for the advertising that is spread via media.

    As a consequence of this situation, we get only occasional reports on the disgusting practices used by chicken and pig and also dairy cow farmers. The consumer has only contact with the end product, nicely packaged, and sold with lots of glorious advertising, that only praises the goods and the prices. The consumer does rarely if ever see any pictures of the way hens are kept, the way eggs are produced, and the same applies to chicken meat, pork and milk (the latter produced at the cost of killing lots of bobby calves).

    When we had more family farms, when farming and food production was done by more people producing products in an old fashioned way, more people had contact with the production and the animals involved. Then they also developed a more caring and responsible attitude. With industrialisation of farming practices, all that has gone.

    By the way, we talk about “humane” and “inhumane”, but that would apply to humans, animals will never be treated “humanely”, as they are not humans.

    The only way to change the situation is to run more revealing campaigns, which again costs money, and the industry has more money at their ends, so it is an unequal race.

  4. Mike in Auckland says:

    Quote: “Under duress, the Government has been forced to change the standards of welfare for chickens, so caged laying hens will be prohibited after 2022.”

    Another BS act by our government, that likes to delay law changes that put extra rules on business far into the future.

  5. Afewknowthetruth says:

    The dominant culture is one of abuse of animals, abuse of the human population, and abuse of the environment.

    Nothing will substantially change because the system can no longer function without systematic abuse and systematic lying.

    Window dressing and lies will continue until the system collapses and mass starvation reduces population to a sustainable level. That wont happen for a while in NZ but in other countries the cliff is now mighty close.

  6. saveNZ says:

    Great post.

  7. J says:

    When I read the publicity sheet in 2012 that there would be no caged eggs, post 2022, there was no mention of colony cage use. Yet NAWAC knew very well, from the small amount of research done, mostly economic research, biased towards poor little egg federation lobbyists, that they intended to use colony.

    If New Zealanders are happy to use caged eggs that says they are happy about their cruelty to the workers in those places.
    Who are the workers? The chickens and the people. Without the chickens there would be no eggs. The emphasis should be on giving the chickens and the people working there a better life – no cages and a proper wage. Contempt for any living creature sets the standard for all New Zealanders. We should all be ashamed we are not able to stop this cruelty. The government is failing us.

    Let’s make it an election issue, PLEASE! You’re helping working people and our real food producers – chickens, pigs, …

    And anyone in New Zealand that even pretends to be religiously inclined remember chickens and animals are all god’s creatures, or so the religious lobby pretends. Haven’t heard anything from the churches. Hopefully, someone can point out an example of that, and prove me wrong.

    Voltaire: If animals could speak, would we dare to kill and eat them. Sadly, I’m not sure about humans’ higher moral imperatives, anymore.

    Having said all that, however, finally, like water and housing the government’s animal welfare oxymoronic stance is becoming noticed by even the most unaware New Zealander, possibly because it’s now affecting them…

  8. Takere says:

    Well Humpty Dumpty will be pleased? He’s been protesting for years by putting his body on the line (wall) then floor, sacrificing himself to raise this issue!

  9. Andrea says:

    At the bottom of the pile is a spineless government that allowed ‘farmers’ to ‘phase in’ changes.

    Do we have a system like this in NZ? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9wHzt6gBgI

    Because, if we do, then neither producers nor chickens have a chance of a decent life. It’ll be ‘kick the cat’ until there’s a big enough outbreak of listeria or salmonella followed by a toothy royal commission of enquiry and rolling heads.

    And, if we don’t, then penny-pinching people trying to give their families cheap-enough protein will continue to go ‘Oh, tut’ – and buy the eggs from hell anyway. To afford the little bottle of wine. Or something.