The Prime Minister yesterday said the Government was against "factory farming" as it could have a negative impact on New Zealand's international free-range brand.

After debate on the issue in Parliament yesterday, John Key said "the Government doesn't support it".

"It might also be helpful to point out the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee has recently developed a dairy welfare code," he said.

"The Minister of Agriculture advised me he has asked for urgent advice on the specific issue in relation to that code."

However, a director of one of the companies behind the proposals says critics who call it "factory farming" have got it all wrong.

Richard Peacocke was reluctant to be interviewed while involved in environmental hearings related to the applications. However in statements, he said: "Factory farming implies that stock are unduly restricted.

"Each cow will have its own cubicle to stand, sit and sleep. The floor of the cubicle is a thick rubber pad and the cows are free to enter and leave the cubicles at will and wander around the balance of the shed and feed as they require.

"There will be clear roof panels to allow sun and light to enter. Additionally the cows will be free to wander out onto a large open air holding yard during fine weather and stand or sit in the sun."

Mr Peacocke said the effluent would be collected and stored, with liquid waste watered down and spread on pasture at "very low rates".

Mr Peacocke urged the Greens to study the full information available "and then they could comment with some knowledge".

"There are a considerable number of cubicle barns already in operation in New Zealand that could be visited to gain an understanding of the system."

The "continental climate" of the Mackenzie Basin, with extreme heat and cold, made cubicle barns a sensible option.

Consent applications before Environment Canterbury include effluent ponds with 414 million litres of storage capacity and plans to put as much as 1.7 million litres of diluted effluent onto the land every day.

Federated Farmers said "so-called factory farming" cut costs, was environmentally friendly, and would not tarnish New Zealand's reputation. Public submissions on the applications close on December 18.

COWS INSIDE
* Applications have been made to house up to 18,000 cows in "cubicle stables" in the Mackenzie Basin.
* The cows will be stabled for 24 hours a day for eight months of the year, and 12 hours a day for the remaining four months.

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: NZPA