3. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: Has he had the opportunity to view the new colony cage systems for hens which the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is proposing will replace battery hen cages; if so, does he believe they are acceptable from an animal welfare perspective?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): To the first part of the question, yes, I have; to the second part of the question, I do not believe that it is in the public interest to express a personal point of view at this stage, as I am awaiting the delivery of a code of welfare that is being prepared currently by NAWAC, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is the Minister responsible for animal welfare, as well as for MAF—the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. He has told us that he has been to see these new cage systems. I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask him for his opinion.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is perfectly at liberty, on the grounds given, not to express a personal opinion. We cannot force Ministers to give personal opinions. He advanced perfectly reasonable grounds for not expressing a personal view.
Sue Kedgley: Has the taxpayer contributed funding towards the trial of the new colony cage systems through the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's Sustainable Farming Fund; if so, how much?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am not aware of any funding from the Sustainable Farming Fund going towards the testing of the new colony cage system. I am certainly aware that through Vote Agriculture we fund the work of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table details of a Sustainable Farming Fund project that show that $390,000 was contributed towards the colony cage system.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of the document?
Sue Kedgley: It is from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's website.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's website. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that taxpayers and the media should be able to view the new colony cage systems so that they can see for themselves how the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's money has been spent and whether the new cages provide good welfare for the hens; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CARTER: It would be useful if the public was more aware of the benefits of such systems of farming. The difficulty in allowing some people to view the systems is that, from past experience, they have not respected the privilege of being allowed into these places. In many cases, there was also quite a considerable biosecurity risk in allowing members of the public into quite intensive farming systems.
Sue Kedgley: As the Egg Producers Federation is refusing to allow any members of the media in to see the new colony cage systems, would he be prepared to go on one tour of the colony cage project and take members of the media with him; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CARTER: As I said in an earlier answer to a question, I have already had the opportunity of having a very good look at these systems. I think they are a considerable improvement on the current system. We need to allow this work to be done by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee in a non-emotional, scientific way so that we can deliver credible codes of welfare to this industry, as we do to other industries.
Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that the reason for the excessive secrecy surrounding the trial could be a fear that if people were able to see the cages for themselves, they would consider them to be unspeakably cruel; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, I do not accept that for one minute.
Sue Kedgley: Why has the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars assisting the egg industry to move from one cruel cage system to another, instead of requiring the industry to shift to free-range or barn systems?
Hon DAVID CARTER: We need to wait for the finalisation of the code of welfare before we know which recommended system will be available to New Zealand egg producers. I am aware that if we were to shift to a completely free-range system, then the cost of egg production in this country would dramatically increase.