NZ egg farmers vent fears over switch to cage free production

29-09-2017 | | |
Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Egg producers in New Zealand have expressed concerns about the pace of the switch to cage free production, which is raising fears over potential ruin for some of the nation’s 145 commercial egg farmers.

At present, around three-quarters of eggs sold are from caged systems, with free-range, barn and organic picking up 25% of sales. Cage egg sales per dozen were up 6.5% from last year compared to just 2.5% for free range.

Yet, farmers face having to phase out conventional caged systems between now and 2022 and New Zealand’s 2 largest supermarket chains Foodstuffs and Countdown have said they are responding to consumer pressure to sell only free range and barn eggs in the next 10 years.

Disruption in the egg market

Speaking at this month’s International Egg Commission annual conference in Bruges, Michael Guthrie, managing director of Mainland Poultry Ltd, which produces one third of New Zealand’s eggs, said there was considerable upheaval in the sector.

“We are seeing some disruption in the market and can expect to see a roller-coaster ride in the next 18 months. We are legally able to go to colony in the light of phasing out conventional cage systems by 2022 but our supermarkets have buckled under animal welfare pressure.”

Unrealistic pressure on egg farmers

Michael Brooks, Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand executive director, said cage eggs were more popular than cage free and the transition would put unrealistic pressure on egg farmers.

Mr Brooks said some egg farmers had poured millions of dollars into colony cages after the Ministry for Primary Industries changed the Layer Hens Code of Welfare in 2012. This meant farmers were given 6 years to switch from battery to colony cages.

“Now the supermarkets are saying sorry. I know you’ve spent millions of dollars but in 10 years’ time we’re not taking your eggs and for the farmer that is a really unfair position.”

Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist