Happier hen eggs may cost more

19:00, Dec 07 2012

An animal welfare expert says egg prices will go up as producers phase out battery cages and replace them with more expensive enriched cages under a new regulations announced this week.

Professor Kevin Stafford, from Massey University, said egg producers had known the new rules were coming, but it would still mean cost increases that would be passed on to consumers.

Under the new Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare, released by Primary Industries Minister David Carter, battery cages will be phased out over the next 10 years, but hens will still be able to be kept in larger cages.

Prof Stafford said some smaller egg producers would probably go out of business because they would not want to pay to replace their sheds with new "enriched cages".

"There are a lot of different enriched cage systems. Some have 20 hens, some 40 and some 60," he said.

Enriched cages allowed chickens to perch and nest.


Prof Stafford said there was some disquiet about all hens being able to free-range. "[Free-range] means different things to different people. Chickens might be in a big shed, and allowed to go outside if they want. There could be a lot of chickens and not much room outside, or few hens and a lot of room."

Prof Stafford said a report by agricultural advisory company Nimmo-Bell said it expected egg price increases of between 10 and 14 per cent, plus greater price volatility in the short term.

He said about 90 per cent of eggs in New Zealand were from caged hens so the phasing out of battery cages was a big change.

"Eggs are a staple part of people's diet. There are eggs in baked goods [so] expect all that to go up in price."

But free range Eco Eggs Levin managing director Mike Schellkes said eggs had never been cheaper, and there was strong competition in the industry. He did not expect prices to go up as a result of the phasing out of battery cages.

He said there should be better laws for free-range eggs. Without tougher regulation, big egg producers would shift from battery cages to industrialised free-range.

More than 400 million eggs are sold in supermarkets in New Zealand each year. Though most are from hens in cages, sales of free-range brands are growing rapidly, leaping 30 per cent in the past 12 months.

A report for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry indicates most free-range eggs come from industrial-scale operations with more than 10,000 hens.

Manawatu Standard