© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Colony cage farms under fire

Kristina Eddy

A colony cage farm under fire for alleged animal abuse has escaped charges after a Government investigation.

A colony cage farm under fire about alleged animal abuse has escaped charges following a Ministry of Primary Industries investigation.

Heyden Farms was criticised by animal rights groups, SAFE and Farmwatch, who released footage showing distressed hens in overcrowded colony cages.

Executive Director of SAFE, Hans Kriek said for the farm to not be charged after years of investigation was disappointing.

He said their footage which showed hens with their heads trapped under a perch and others dead and rotting was incriminating and charges should have been laid.

By law, farms are required to check on the welfare of their chickens daily and Kriek said it was obvious the law wasn’t being followed.

“How can you inspect birds everyday, not see that they were stuck and then just leave them alone… our footage alone was enough to prosecute,” he said.

Farmwatch

Farmwatch

Heyden Farms investigation

The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Egg Producer Federation investigated Heyden Farms in Waikato after SAFE and Farmwatch laid a complaint in March.

An MPI spokesperson said the ministry made an unannounced inspection and spent two days investigating the farm.

He said the animal rights footage displays unacceptable practices however, MPI inspectors did not see all of the evidence in the footage displayed at the farm.

The investigation did reveal “overcrowding in some cages and failure to adequately inspect and remove dead birds”.

While charges weren’t laid, MPI said “laying charges is not always the best solution for the animal’s welfare” and they were working with the farm so it complies with the standards.

Calls for a ban on colony farming

The Green party called for a ban on colony farming after viewing the footage and said she was disappointed charges weren’t laid.

She said it leaves her questioning “just how high does the threshold need to be to get charges laid if the terrible conditions revealed in the footage were insufficient”.

Greens MP Mojo Mathers said the New Zealand government committed to getting rid of battery cages by 2022 and these colony cages are no better.

It didn’t make sense to spend millions on new colony cages when they were just as cruel, Mathers said.

Kriek said the new colony cages were bigger than the old battery cages but farmers filled them with more chickens making the conditions just as bad.

These claims have been “strongly rejected” by the Egg Producer Federation.

Executive Producer of the EPF Michael Brooks said this case only highlighted the negligence of one farm in an isolated incident that showed poor practice around cage checking and clearing.

He said, “It does not reflect the standards of animal welfare prevalent across colony farming observed by the rest of the industry”.

While Kriek said feather loss was caused by overcrowding and negligence, EPF Veterinarian Kerry Mulqueen said this was not caused by the colony environment.

“If anything, colony farming protects feather loss, whereas these birds selected by SAFE look to be close to the end of their laying cycle.”

Brooks said Heyden Farms were less than a year old and put the failures down to poor management “which is still learning how to manage a new system”.

Countdown's pulled eggs linked to Heyden's Farm from their shelves.

Countdown’s pulled eggs linked to Heyden’s Farm from their shelves.

Countdown reacts

Countdown’s pulled Morning Harvest eggs linked to Heyden Farms and said the eggs will stay off the shelves until they’ve been reassured the farm meets standards.

Countdown Spokesperson James Walker said the footage which is disturbing and distressing prompted the removal of the eggs.

He said they will continue to communicate with suppliers to ensure all eggs meet the supermarket’s animal welfare expectations and the Code of Welfare.

Consumer change

Hans Kriek said consumers have the power to drive a ban on caged eggs.

Customers hold enough power to stop the sale of caged eggs, if the demand for the eggs drop then retailers won’t need to sell them, he said.

Free range eggs are more expensive which puts off most buyers but Kriek said this is what consumers should expect to pay for healthy eggs.

He said the reason other eggs remain cheap is because they are produced in systems that are cruel to the animals and allows the price to stay artificially low.

Other colony eggs, not connected to abuse investigations, are still for sale.

Other colony eggs, not connected to abuse investigations, are still for sale.

New Zealand’s ‘reputation on the line’

It’s become a world-wide trend to ban the sale of all caged eggs, Kriek said.

Walmart and The Woolworths chain in Australia have banned the sale of all caged eggs, including both colony and battery eggs.

Canada and Europe have also joined the ban so New Zealand needed to follow suit, he said.

“If New Zealand doesn’t want to be seen as backwards when it comes to animal welfare, then we need to keep up with the times and ban colony cages as well”.

Michael Brooks said having three choices; colony, barn and free range eggs, offers an important price choice for consumers.