A court in New Zealand has found Mark Eden, an activist with the animal rights group New Zealand Open Rescue, guilty of burglary after he rescued hens from a battery-egg operation. Mark and about 10 other activists raided Turk’s Poultry Farm in Foxton in November 2006, removed 20 hens and then found homes for the birds.
Mark, who represented himself during the three-day trial, told the court that the open rescue mission was a last resort after years of failed lobbying to ban battery farming. He showed the court video footage taken during the raid and argued it was the operators of battery farms who were breaking the law. He never disputed entering the sheds and claimed he was preventing a crime against the hens.
It took the jury less than 15 minutes to return a guilty verdict. The judge told Mark that no matter how sincere his intentions, he could not take the law into his own hands. He was sentenced to 150 hours’ community work and ordered to pay $180 compensation to Turk’s Poultry. Each of the chickens taken was worth $9 on the market.
Mark Eden’s jury trial is the first of its kind in New Zealand. He maintains that by removing battery hens from Turk’s farm, he was mitigating suffering, not stealing property. As the trial closed, open rescue supporters held a non-violent protest outside the District Court highlighting the plight of battery hens. Mark is the only activist to be convicted following an open rescue, of which at least 20 had been carried out since the one at Turk’s Poultry. In 2005, he was convicted and discharged after chaining himself to a bacon truck to protest against battery farming.
“Everyone is entitled to justice,” said Mark outside the court. “I’m entitled to justice, and those hens are entitled to justice. Battery farmers don’t want to have these cases come up all the time because it highlights the issue. If ever those people come to trial, the law as it stands says that you should not put hens in cages … unfortunately, I was on trial, not the battery farmers.” He said that at least the hens he helped rescue are happy, safe and will live long lives.
In 1994, the New Zealand government introduced citizen-initiated referendums, where a petition of 200,000 signatures required a review of any law. But a battery farming petition that attracted 360,000 signatures was deemed not valid and the referendum was never passed.
About 3 million layer hens are still in cages in New Zealand, despite overwhelming public opposition to battery farming and over 20 years of legal campaigning by animal rights activists. Caged hens cannot run, walk, perch or dust bathe, and their skin is abraded from rubbing against the sides of the cage. Hens suffer from lack of space, stressful social crowding and skeletal weakness. According to New Zealand Open Rescue, Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee found in 2006 that battery farming breaches the Animal Welfare Act, and only a special intervention by Minister of Agriculture Jim Anderton allows this cruel practice to continue.