Following a heated debate over cage-free eggs, the egg industry has now decided to intervene in the matter, deeming criticisms by cage-free egg advocates as ‘out of touch with the needs and concerns of the majority of Kiwi shoppers’.
According to the Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand (EPF), the majority of New Zealanders want to provide nutritious food for their families, but are obliged to work to a weekly food budget.
“As every supermarket owner and manager knows, New Zealanders shop overwhelmingly on price,” Michael Brooks, executive director of EPF, told SupermarketNews. “Eggs at the right price are a nutritious and versatile food staple that should be accessible to everybody, and the Egg Industry supports supermarkets in providing customers with choice by offering a range of egg products and prices.”
Brooks cited as evidence the latest supermarket scan data results across the country. “Colony and cage production eggs (the latter scheduled to be phased-out in 2022) still make up close to three-quarters of the total volume of eggs sold in supermarkets, and also achieve higher volumes in other markets.”
According to the EPF, calls for supermarkets to switch to selling cage-free eggs only, at a time when many families are struggling, are not only impractical but would also leave consumers and the industry exposed to vulnerabilities. Given that free-range eggs account for only 18 percent of national production, switching to solely cage-free eggs would take years. The colony system, the EPF pointed out, works with the other systems of barn and free-range in giving choice to customers while ensuring welfare for the birds—and keeping eggs affordable for all Kiwis, which allows them to purchase on ‘value’ rather than ‘values’.
Brooks also emphasised that the National Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC)—the independent, Government-appointed panel of NZ animal welfare specialists—had unanimously recognised the colony production system as producing affordable eggs with a good level of welfare. A fact that, Brooks said, animal activist organisations and others seem to ignore.
“In its report accompanying the release of the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare in 2012, NAWAC members stated unanimously that the colony system provides ‘equivalent or superior overall welfare when compared with these other systems [of free-range and barn]’,” he said.
“Colony farming’s ability to maintain lower disease rates and lower mortality, and the fact that it allows birds to express a range of natural behaviours including nesting, perching, scratching and spreading their wings, are some of the other reasons why a large section of the industry is well under way with the transition to this model. As in any transition, there can be an isolated incident where a farmer fails to hit industry standards, but this is not representative of industry conditions under the colony farming model.”