Group calls for eggs to be clearly labelled to show whether they're produced by caged colony hens

Stock image of eggs
Battery hen egg farming ended at the beginning of this year, but colony cages are still allowed. Photo credit: Getty Images

Eggs should be explicitly labelled to show whether they are produced by colony hens living in cages, a group of vets says.

Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA) managing director Helen Beattie said since a ban on battery cages came into force on January 1, some egg producers were apparently "blurring messages" for consumers.

"Many Kiwis don't know that colony cages still exist and house about a third of our layer hens," she said.

While the living conditions for the hens were better in colony cages than previously-allowed battery cages, hens still could not express their normal behaviours, Beattie said.

"Anyone who knows chickens knows they love to dust bathe, scratch the ground and peck at the many things that pique their interest. These are their hardwired behaviours."

Colony cages typically house about 60 birds, with the cages stacked on top of each other - with the combined space adding up to an area a bit bigger than an A4 piece of paper allocated per hen.

Beattie said it was understandable that consumers were confused.

"It's hard to get the full picture when egg cartons are often labelled as 'colony laid' or 'fresh colony eggs'. The labelling deliberately avoids use of the word 'cage'.

"So unless an egg-lover understands the farming systems used in New Zealand, it's easy to miss that where marketing states 'colony'-then-insert-anything here, it ultimately means 'colony cage' with marginal improvements in the hens' lives."

VAWA, SPCA, World Animal Protection, the New Zealand Animal Law Association, HUHA animal shelter, Aotearoa Liberation League and Animals Aotearoa co-signed an open letter this week to call for correct labelling on eggs.

In March, SAFE said it was planning to deliver a petition to associate minister of agriculture (animal welfare) Meka Whaitiri, calling for an end to eggs from caged hens. It was signed by 34,000 people.