There's been a proliferation of pre-election political panels in the run-up to this election - more than I can remember, which is a healthy sign in our democracy. But the most interesting one I have attended was a political panel on animal welfare - a first for this country.
Hundreds of thousands of animals in New Zealand spend their lives locked inside cages, in almost unimaginably cruel conditions. The government and the pork industry have agreed to phase out sow crates in four years time, but there is no commitment to getting rid of cages for hens.
Only pressure from consumers and activists will force the government to end the practice of keeping hens in cages, and opt for free range and barn raised methods of production instead.
I believe future generations will look back in amazement at the cruel way we treated animals in, and wonder why so many people (and so many governments) turned a blind eye to animal cruelty in their midst.
My heart sank when I heard about Fonterra's idea to reduce the dairy industry's impact on our environment. Fonterra has come up with a strategy to make the industry more sustainable, and included it in a 10-year growth plan it has submitted to the Government.
I was somewhat startled to read a claim by our chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, that antibiotic use in agriculture in New Zealand is low compared with other countries. Sir Peter was responding to suggestions that we need to drastically reduce our use of antibiotics in the face of the growing threat of superbugs that are resistant to all antibiotics.
Colony cages are no better than battery hen cages, despite the spin, argues former Green MP Sue Kedgley. Two years ago, I was invited by the Egg Producers Federation to have a look at some new ''colony'' cages that Mainland Poultry had installed in its huge facility outside Dunedin.
It always pays to read a Cabinet paper if you want to work out the real agenda behind a new government initiative. The Government's recently released animal welfare strategy, and proposed changes to the Animal Welfare Act, are a case in point. The strategy is full of phrases such as "it matters how animals are treated – it matters to the animals and it matters to us". So it would be easy to assume that the Government has had a change of heart around animal welfare.
We are still waiting, a year later, for the Minister of Agriculture to announce a new Code of Welfare to Hens. I predict that he will ignore the vast majority of submitters who called for an end to the cruel practice of keeping hens in cages, and will instead approve a new code that says hens can be kept indefinitely in ‘colony’ cages –cages that sound a bit better than a battery hen cage, but which still give a hen around the size of an A-4 sheet of paper in usable space.