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Feathers fly over egg raid

Date

Christopher Knaus

Police investigate damage to the plant overnight, where conveyor belts were cut, which halted production yesterday.

Police investigate damage to the plant overnight, where conveyor belts were cut, which halted production yesterday. Photo: Graham Tidy

A raid on an egg farm in Canberra's north by animal activists has reignited the debate over the use of battery hens in the ACT.

Activists forced entry into the Parkwood Egg Farm, owned by Pace Farm, in Macgregor, between 11pm Monday and 6am yesterday.

Once inside, they slashed conveyor belts, destroyed grading and packaging machinery, and damaged office equipment and forklifts.

Production at the battery farm has been halted, and most workers have been sent home.

The facility is the only battery hen farm in the ACT, and holds about 30,000 chickens, according to the Australian Egg Corporation.

An anonymous individual named ''The Blackbird'' claimed responsibility for the attack and posted YouTube footage that purported to show conditions inside the facility.

The vision shows chickens packed tightly into cages with little room to move, clearly agitated and distressed.

But the Australian Egg Corporation has attacked the credibility of that footage, saying it showed white hens, which haven't been used at the farm for at least 10 years.

The video footage also clearly showed free range packaging stored at the battery farm.

But the Australian Egg Corporation said that packaging was used for eggs produced at other sites and not for eggs produced at the Pace Farm facility.

Corporation managing director James Kellaway lashed out at those responsible for what he described as ''one of the worst examples of industrial sabotage in Australia''.

''These home grown extremists have put at risk the welfare of 30,000 hens currently housed at the Pace Farm, Canberra,'' Mr Kellaway said.

''It remains to be seen whether any alternative accommodation can be found [for the hens] at such short notice.

''The welfare of the hens has been placed in complete jeopardy as a direct result of this commercial vandalism.''

Animal Liberation ACT rubbished those concerns as ''hypocritical'' and said Pace Farm had showed no care for the welfare of the chickens in its daily operations.

The organisation's manager Bernie Brennan described the facility as a ''disgrace'', and said the treatment of its hens was abhorrent and cruel.

Mr Brennan said chickens are unable to move inside the cages, and often became wedged between the wires.

He said the chickens' claws often grew far too long and wrapped around the cage wire, resulting in their legs being broken as they are removed from cages.

''They spend 18 months in this shed, where they never see the daylight, never feel the wind,'' Mr Brennan said.

''The first breath of air they get is at the 18-month point when they get thrown into even smaller crates, chucked on the back of a truck, and driven to Geelong to the abattoir,'' he said.

But Mr Brennan said he did not condone the attack on the Parkwood facility, and denied having any knowledge of the incident.

The ACT Greens have tried to shut the farm down a number of times, in 1997, 2007, and 2009.

The Greens animal welfare spokeswoman Caroline Le Couteur wouldn't comment on the most recent attack on the farm, but said it remained Greens policy to ban cage egg production in the ACT.

ACT Labor and Liberal have voted against attempts to ban cage egg production in the past.

Opposition Leader Zed Seselja condemned the actions of the activists yesterday, and said that shutting down the facility was not the right option.

''We do want to see improved standards when it comes to hens and egg production, but we also don't believe in just destroying businesses,'' Mr Seselja said. ''We believe that businesses such as this should have the opportunity to be transitioning to better ways of producing eggs.''

The ACT government had previously offered $1 million to Pace Farm to convert the facility to use barn eggs, an offer the company rejected. Animal Liberation ACT, which has long been opposed to the use of battery hens, has denied knowledge of the attack.

Police are continuing to investigate the incident, and will trace the YouTube video to try and track down those responsible.

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