'Industrial eyesore': Backlash over mega egg factory planned for Orini

A mega egg factory farm planned for the Waikato region of Orini doesn't appear to have local support. 

The Waikato District Council is considering an application from Mainland Poultry to build the farm in the region north of Hamilton, but challengers have already gathered more than 30,000 signatures in a petition against it.  

A two-day hearing by the council was supposed to conclude on Tuesday to decide if New Zealand's largest egg producer should be able to build the farm. But Animal rights group Direct Animal Action says commissioners rushed to conclude the meeting on Monday. 

The council told Newshub the second hearing on Tuesday would only be held if required, and said two commissioners, including and independent one, will make the final decision on whether to grant or decline the application, based on all evidence they have received.

The council's staff recommendation to the hearing commissioners was to grant resource consent, "subject to conditions, based on information received by technical experts," said consents manager Ana Maria d'Aubert.

"When deciding its recommendation and how many people need to be notified council is regulated by the Resource Management Act. This means that council can only make decisions based on RMA criteria."

Opponents to the farm plan will gather outside the Waikato District Council on Tuesday in a show of opposition and will hand the 30,000 signature petition to the council, calling for the farm to be stopped.

Animal rights activists oppose the farm because of previous controversies Mainland Poultry has faced in relation to animal cruelty.  

When Direct Animal Action exposed footage last year of decomposing chicken carcasses on the ground and mice running through cages at a Whangarei farm owned by Mainland, the company said it was extremely concerned. 

Ms d'Aubert said the council "notes that animal welfare standards of any intensive farm are governed by central Government legislation and the applicant has advised they will meet required standards."

Direct Animal Action spokesperson Deirdre Sims says the council process has been unfair from the beginning with only a few of the closest neighbours included in a limited notification submission process.

"Several of the closest neighbours to the proposed site were excluded from the notification process, meaning they couldn't officially submit on something that will have a big impact on their living conditions.

"A huge, stinky, industrial eyesore could now be in their backyard and they've been denied a say in it."

The council confirmed to Newshub that the original resource application showed that it planned to erect 17 sheds to house a total of 800,000 birds. But a revised application showed it had decreased the number of proposed sheds to six to house about 400,000. 

This raised concerns over the birds' welfare and whether Mainland was simply trying to mute the opposition from activists and local residents. 

But Mainland's managing director Michael Guthrie told Stuff the original plans submitted to the council specified colony enclosures (bigger than a battery cages) as well as aviary enclosures that are supposed to stimulate the natural behaviour of birds.

He said the aviary enclosures proposed for the Orini farm, which have multiple levels, are supported by animal behaviourists. 

But Direct Animal Action says multi-tiered aviary systems are "simply an adjustment on colony cages. The hens will have no access to the outdoors". 

"It's appalling when a council bows to the pressure of a multi-national to the detriment of local amenity, residents and not to mention animal welfare," said Ms Sims. 

"We're incredibly disappointed with the way the council has handled this application from the start."

It's not the first time locals have strongly opposed a chicken farm in New Zealand. Tegal's plans to build the country's largest poultry farm near Dargaville were killed off in October by the overseas Investment Office.  

The company came up against huge local opposition when it sought permission to build 32 supersize poultry sheds on 200 hectares of former dairy land at Arapohue.

Animal rights activists and local Maori protested in August, calling the idea a "huge stinking eyesore" with concerns about noise, smell and pollution.

A final decision on the Orinini farm is expected in February 2019.