Controversial new government research is tipped to reveal that caged hens are generally healthier than their free-range cousins.
The research by government agency AsureQuality comes at a time of heightened consumer awareness about the poultry industry and growing demand for free- range eggs, which sell for almost double the price of battery eggs.
AsureQuality has compared the condition of layer hens on dozens of egg-producing farms across the country.
The survey results are not due to be released until November, but industry sources told the Sunday Star-Times that early findings show that battery-farmed birds are generally healthier because the controlled conditions prevent the spread of disease. This was despite both groups receiving the same level of care.
An AsureQuality spokeswoman confirmed it had been working on a research project commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Biosecurity New Zealand but said no "scientifically robust" data was available yet.
Michael Brooks, head of the Egg Producers Federation, said that although members of his organisation had taken part, the research was independent so as to provide the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee with impartial data.
The advisory committee, an independent body set up to advise the agriculture minister on animal welfare matters, is due to review the 2005 Animal Welfare (Layer Hen) Code of Welfare.
Brooks said he would not be surprised if the data did show less mortality and disease among battery-farmed hens.
- Sunday Star Times