Animal codes of welfare for pigs and layer hens published

  • Jim Sutton

Two animal codes of welfare have been published today by Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton.

The codes, for pigs and for layer hens, come into force on 1 January 2005.

Mr Sutton said the codes covered all types of pig production (indoor and outdoor) and all types of egg production (caged, barn, and free range). The pig and layer hen codes are the last of the six previous codes carried over from the previous animal welfare legislation.

The major changes in the pig code are:
· a reduction in the use of dry sow stalls. By the start of 2015, maximum permitted confinement will be 4 weeks after mating.
· A phase-out of stalls for boars by the start of 2010.
· a reduction of maximum confinement in farrowing crates for 6 weeks, and
·a prohibition on the tethering of pigs.

Mr Sutton said a minimum body condition score for all pigs was also being introduced, along with compulsory space requirements for growing pigs, set using a formula which allows for good welfare and also good production.

From next year, the castration of piglets over the age of 7 days must be done by a veterinarian.

He said that Cabinet has directed NAWAC to undertake further consideration of an alternative, practical path towards earlier reduction in the use of dry-sow stalls and to report back by the end of June next year.

Mr Sutton said the major issue in the layer hen code was the space requirements for caged layers, as 92% of eggs produced in NZ are produced by birds in cages.

These are:
·All new cages built after the issue of the code must provide a minimum of 550;
· All cages existing when the code is issued must provide a minimum of 450, and by 1 January 2008, all existing cages must provide a minimum of 500;
· By 1 January 2014 all cages must provide 550
In addition, forced moulting will only be permitted if replacement birds are not available, and food and water may only be withheld for a maximum of 24 hours.

Beak trimming, where carried out, can only be carried out within 10 days after hatching except where there are outbreaks of cannibalism. Beak trimming can only be carried out by trained operators.

Egg farmers must have daily inspections to remove sick, injured or dead birds.

The code also sets new minimum light levels and ammonia levels for housed birds, new minimum space requirements for the housing of barn and free range birds, and new minimum standards for outdoor areas for free-range birds.

Mr Sutton said NAWAC would review all scientific literature in 5 years time, with a view to reconsidering its conclusions on cages. At that time it will decide if conventional cages should continue or not.

Also, an economic analysis was being carried out to ascertain independentally whether it would be economically viable to get the industry to increase cage sizes more quickly.

“If this review indicates the need for change, I will be discussing it with the industry and NAWAC, and could amend the code.”

Mr Sutton said the layer hen code was a difficult one for NAWAC to decide.

“Farming chickens is not easy, whatever system you use. They require intensive care.“

He said all animal codes of welfare are aimed at the worst players in the industry, not the best ones.

“The science on layer hen systems is unclear. NAWAC have made it clear that, reluctantly, they feel they cannot recommend abolition of cage systems until they can be confident that this would result in improved welfare for hens.”