Amendments to layer hens code of welfare

  • Nathan Guy
Primary Industries

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has announced amendments to the Layer Hens Code of Welfare 2012, in a move to avoid a large increase in the price of eggs.

“The final date of 2022 for all layer hens to be out of battery cages remains unchanged. However, the amendment alters the transition dates by two years:

  • Cages installed before 31 December 1999 must now be replaced by 31  December 2018 (previously 2016);
  • Cages installed before 31 December 2001 must now be replaced by 31 December 2020 (previously 2018).

The amendments have been made after advice from the independent National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).

“The Government is committed to getting layer hens out of battery cages. This amendment does not change the overall timeframes to achieve this, and all layer hens will still be out of battery cages by 31 December 2022,” says Mr Guy.

“To ensure these timeframes are met the industry has agreed to publicly report each year on key milestones as they phase out battery cages.

“What this amendment will achieve is less disruption to New Zealand’s egg industry as farmers make the change away from battery cages. An independent report commissioned by NAWAC found there could be a dramatic increase in the price of eggs without this change.

“Eggs are a key source of cheap and healthy protein for New Zealand families and this amendment ensures eggs will remain affordable throughout the transition period.

“An independent review found that a significant disruption in the supply and price of eggs would be almost inevitable with the original transition dates.

“Amending the dates will give farmers the time they need to get resource consents and build new sheds.  This will minimise the risk of disruption to the egg supply and price hikes.”

A copy of NAWAC’s independent report is available at:

Questions and Answers

Why aren’t the original transition dates feasible?

Replacing battery cages will be a significant undertaking for farmers.  The sheds that currently hold battery cages will generally not be suited for the alternative systems that battery cage farmers will need to transition to. 

Most farmers will need to build new sheds, either on their existing sites or on new sites, with the associated need to raise capital, possibly purchase land, obtain building and resource consents, physically build new sheds and restock their flocks.

The independent reviewer found that there was simply not enough time for farmers to complete this work before the early transition points.  If farmers were unable to get their new operations up and running in time, they would need to cease production leading to a shortage in eggs and large price spikes.

What were the previous transition dates for the removal of battery cages?

  • Cages installed before 31 December 1999 to be replaced by 31 December 2016;
  • Cages installed before 31 December 2001 to be replaced by 31 December 2018; and
  • Cages installed before 31 December 2003 to be replaced by 31 December 2020.
  • The amended transition dates are as follows:
  • Cages installed before 31 December 1999 to be replaced by 31  December 2018;
  • Cages installed before 31 December 2001 to be replaced by 31 December 2020.

What is the likely impact on the price of eggs?

Eggs are a valuable source of cheap protein for low income families, so it is important that egg prices do not rise significantly.

Alternative hen housing systems are less productive than battery cage systems, and have higher running costs. Over time, the Government expects that there will be consolidation in the industry and a long-run increase in the price of eggs of between 10-14%.  The Government considers this price rise is acceptable given the higher animal welfare outcomes that will be achieved.

In the shorter term, however, there will be a period of price volatility before the price of eggs settles at its new level.  This is because the process of farmers transitioning to new systems, or leaving the industry, creates supply risks. 

Free range and barn farms will not be able to cover supply shortages, as they produce only 17% of New Zealand’s eggs.

The transition plan aims to reduce this short term price volatility by ensuring that most farmers are able to successfully move to alternative hen housing systems. 

What key milestones will the industry be reporting on?

The Egg Producers Federation will report to the Minister at the end of each year on the progress the industry is making toward phasing out battery cages.  This information will be made public. 

The report will include the number of egg farms still using battery cages, and the total size of the battery cage flock.  For those farms still using battery cages, additional information will be provided on how many have secured finance for the transition, lodged resource consent applications, had consents approved, built new or altered existing sheds, and installed new equipment.

This annual report will give both the Minister and the public confidence that the industry is committed to making the change, and is actively working to making it happen.

How has the requirement to fit claw-shortening devices in cages changed?

The Layer Hens Code of Welfare 2012 includes a requirement that all existing battery cages should be fitted with claw-shortening devices. NAWAC accepted that it is unreasonable to require the fitting of these devices to cages that will be entirely removed within 9 years, unless other modifications are being made to battery cages.

The changes will be gazetted on 20 December.