Chicken raider demands change

Last updated 13:09 15/10/2008

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Raiding the chicken coops of the biggest battery farm in the lower North Island was the last resort after failed lobbying, animal rights activist Mark Eden told the court yesterday.

He faces a charge of burglary after admitting to taking 20 chickens from Foxton's Turks Poultry during a late-night reconnaissance mission between November 5 and 6, 2006.

But Eden maintained that he did nothing wrong.

"As you've seen I went into that shed and I'm not disputing I took those chickens."

"My case is that Mr Turk and all those other battery farms are breaking the law and I was going in [to save the chickens]."

The egg industry and its self-formulated code of welfare meant laws were being ignored to suit profitability, Eden said.

"The code of welfare itself does not comply with the [Animal Welfare] Act . . . It should be abolished."

Mr Eden, who is representing himself through his trial, undertook the first Open Rescue mission in New Zealand with nine others, after learning of the technique from overseas activists, the court heard.

For years, he and other activists had been fighting to get legislation banning battery farming.

In 1994, Government introduced citizen-initiated referendums, where a petition of 200,000 signatures required a review of any law.

But a battery farming petition that attracted 360,000 signatures was deemed not valid and the referendum never held, he said.

"Jim Anderton responded by saying, 'Oh no, it will cause too much stress to the industry so we're not going to do it [ban it]'.

"We felt like we had no legal option left."

The group chose Turks Poultry as its most effective first target because part-owner Ron Turk was vice president of the Egg Producers Federation at the time, he said.

Crown prosecutor Esme Killeen disputed that any firm law existed that said battery farming was illegal.

"For the time being, it's status quo," she said.

And Eden, who is a yet-to-be-employed film school student, had an intent to commit a crime, and that was backed up by a quote from him online.

"We're going to use direct action, civil disobedience and cause as much disruption as we can," he said the day after the organised raid.

Eden told the court that 20 other Open Rescue raids had been carried out since, and no one else had been charged. All animals were entitled to exhibit their natural pattern of behaviour, which for a chicken was to walk, flap its wings and peck at the ground, he said.

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And if countries like Austria could function with a ban on battery farming, then New Zealand's industry could "work it out" too, he said.

- Manawatu Standard

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