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An egg industry whistleblower has spoken out against cruelty to animals at a chicken farm in Whangarei, Aotearoa (New Zealand).
A 60-year-old poultry company called Northern Eggs operates the facility, which uses battery cages and colony cages.
Battery cages are widely used in the egg industry, but have come under criticism due to animal welfare concerns. Cages severely restrict movement, often to the point that a hen cannot fully extend her wings.
This can lead to bone fractures and osteoporosis, an increased risk of disease and death, according to research.
The colony cages are slightly larger, but still violate New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act 1999 because they prevent hens from exhibiting natural behaviors, according to the SAFE animal rights charity .
Animal cruelty allegations
In May 2021, a former Northern Eggs employee (who requested to remain anonymous) turned over evidence against SAFE.
Graphic images show chickens left to rot in cages on the farm. Featherless birds can be seen crowded on top of each other, with hens being forced to stand on top of dead chickens. Eggs that have not yet been collected are scattered among the dead animals. One image shows several eggs lying in a pool of blood.
“It’s not uncommon to see guys spinning birds by the necks until their heads come off completely,” the source told SAFE.
Several reports were made to management but ultimately ignored, they alleged.
Northern Eggs responds
This is a far cry from the claims made by Northern Eggs on its website. The company defines itself as a “progressive family farm, where food security and the well-being of our hens are our top priority”.
“It’s satisfying to know that every day we produce a highly nutritious, food-safe egg for families and businesses across Northland,” the website read. Northern Eggs distributes its products to supermarkets, cafes and restaurants in Kaitaia in Auckland.
The egg farmer has denied the animal cruelty allegations.
“Although he is faced with seeing images of any dead animal, mortality does occur in breeding operations,” the company said, per 1 News.
“We strongly refute the allegations of the activists. We believe these historic photos were taken by a disgruntled employee who no longer works for our company. “
Calls for a ban on caged hens
This is not the first time that Northern Eggs has been accused of mistreating its chickens. In May 2019, Newshub posted images showing dead hens in several states of decay. Like recent images, plucked chickens still lived among the dead animals.
The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) oversees food safety in New Zealand. MPI says it found “no evidence of animal cruelty” in either case.
But following a SAFE investigation, MPI admitted to alerting Northern Eggs to the investigation beforehand, giving the company time to suppress any evidence.
“Without a legal ban on these cruel cage systems, there is nothing in place to protect these sensitive and intelligent animals,” Jessica Chambers, SAFE campaigns manager, said in a statement.
“The chickens live in really painful and disgusting conditions, and yet the MPI has not held them responsible. “
Chambers continued, “The fact remains that the colony cages are just as cruel as the battery cages they replaced. The conditions are still in blatant violation of animal welfare law, which is why we are calling on the Minister of Agriculture to ban colony cages in New Zealand. “
SAFE has launched a petition calling for a ban on all caged chicken farming in New Zealand.