To all you compassionate consumers out there:

When you see a carton of eggs labelled something to the effect of “colony laid” – don’t be fooled.

You could be forgiven for allowing the term to conjure up images of happy hens pecking around with other happy hens in a happy little community.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

And that truth is:  Those “colonies” are a tightly-confined bunch of about 60 chickens in a cage. From the bird’s point of view, there’s very little difference – if any – between a “colony” cage and the horrendously confining “battery” cage that’s being banned.

If Woolworths Can Do It, So Can Countdown

SAFE, New Zealand’s peak animal welfare organisation, has launched a campaign to prompt Countdown to follow the lead of its Australian parent, Woolworths – which has committed to stock only genuinely “cage-free” eggs as from 2018. (Go, Woolworths!)

SAFE says, that by virtue of its parent organisation’s progressiveness, Countdown has the reason, the systems and the power to take the lead on the New Zealand supermarket scene . . . but isn’t doing so.

Worse, the chain is allowing the situation whereby customers believe they’re buying compassionately – when, unbeknownst to them, they’re not . . . at all.

For those TPOC readers who are time-poor, here’s a bullet-point summary of the basic facts you’ll want to be appraised of next time you reach for a dozen eggs at the supermarket:

  • In December 2012 the Government released a new welfare code for layer hens that, as of 2022, bans the standard battery cage . . . yet allows a new kind of battery cage, the colony battery cage.
  • What’s the difference between a “battery” cage and a “colony” cage?
    • Battery cage:  Five to six hens to a cage. Each standard “battery hen” has a floor space smaller than an A4 piece of paper. (One battery hen shed may contain as many as 45,000 caged hens.)
    • Colony cage:  Larger cage containing up to 60 hens. Each hen with 750 square centimetres space (just over an A4 piece of paper in area). Very little genuine difference between the two types of cage.
  • Of the 3.2 million egg-laying chickens in New Zealand, eighty-two per cent are caged.
  • Most caged hens are beak-trimmed; those that are not are kept under very low light levels to reduce cannibalism. (This should tell you something about the frame of mind of the hens under these conditions).

‘Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth’

According to Shanti Ahluwalia, SAFE’s Campaigns Officer & Policy Advisor:

“Countdown is selling these ‘colony’ cage eggs and the labelling is quite misleading. Most consumers think is, ‘Oh, a big flock of birds, all free to run around.’

“But it’s not like that at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“If anyone saw the two types of cage for themselves, they would see that colony cages are almost indistinguishable from battery cages, in terms of the conditions in which a laying hen has to exist. Any thinking person would recognise clearly the ongoing cruelty, if they could see the definition of ‘colony’ in practice. Colony cages, put simply, are dressed-up battery cages.

“Woolworths Australia, the parent company of Countdown New Zealand, recognises this, and we applaud their commitment to stock only genuinely and fully cage-free eggs by 2018. They’re applying the true and moral interpretation of ‘cage-free’.

‘Countdown Has the Opportunity to Lead’

“Countdown New Zealand has the same power to make a difference by stopping the sale of all caged eggs. It also has the opportunity to say ‘no’ to practices and terms that mislead its customers . . . terms that are conjuring up very inaccurate visual images.

“We’ve been keeping at Countdown for two years. Recently, they started stone-walling us. So, we’ve launched the ‘Countdown to Cage-Free’ campaign, and we’ll escalate it ongoingly until we get a morally acceptable outcome.

“They’re claiming there are not enough free range eggs available at this point in time, so we’re trying to be reasonable. But if Woolworths can do it, so can Countdown.

“So we’re asking them to put a date on it.”

Watch this video on the reality of a colony cage shed.

Further detail on the issue and the campaign.

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