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SPCA wants supermarkets to set dates for ending battery egg sales

Tuesday, 3 April, 2007

The SPCA says that New Zealand supermarket chains should follow the example of a leading UK food retailer and set deadlines for ending sales of battery-produced eggs.

The SPCA has also called on New Zealand consumers to vote with their purses and persuade supermarket chains to make the change.

Last week, British supermarket giant, J.Sainsbury, pledged to phase-out all battery-produced eggs before 2012, in response to customer concerns. Sainsbury's currently sells approximately 600 million eggs per year.

"The move reflects a clear trend in the UK retail food market, where the value of free range eggs overtook that of the battery-produced variety in 2005," says SPCA New Zealand's National Chief Executive, Robyn Kippenberger.

"Amongst other supermarket chains, Marks & Spencer dropped cage eggs from its range as far back as 1997. Waitrose stopped selling them in 2001 and now uses free range eggs in all its own branded foods. This company clearly believes that it's important for consumers to know how their food is produced and to have confidence in its origins.

"If huge companies such as these can make this kind of change, how much easier should it be for our own much smaller supermarket chains?

"Opinion surveys suggest that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders are opposed to the cruelties inherent in battery egg production. We should all be following the example of those UK consumers, who have used the power of their purses to bring about change," she says.

Sainsbury's set its deadline for achieving exclusively cage-free egg sales, following public outcry at revelations that hundreds of millions of batteryproduced eggs had been sold as free-range or organic in British supermarkets. A similar case in New Zealand was successfully prosecuted by the Commerce Commission.

"The SPCA's accreditation scheme guarantees that consumers know if they are really purchasing free range or barn eggs and not those produced under battery conditions. Our logo is clearly visible on all packets," says Robyn Kippenberger.

"SPCA accreditation is restricted to egg producers who have accepted thorough and regular auditing of their farms, production and packaging methods and facilities, and who have no connection or association with battery hen production," she adds.

Battery hens spend their lives in conditions so crowded that they cannot exercise, flap wings, preen or perform other natural activities. As a result of these conditions, many birds suffer from distorted limbs, broken bones and painfully damaged feet and claws.

'Cage-free' is a generic term covering both 'barn eggs' and 'free range eggs'. The SPCA defines barn eggs as laid by hens that are allowed to move round and have room to dust-bath, perch, stretch and nest. Free-range eggs are produced by hens with all these advantages and which, in addition, are allowed to roam outdoors.