Nearly eight out of ten New Zealanders would be willing to pay more for their eggs, if battery cages for hens were banned, says a survey commissioned by the SPCA.

Participants in a Colmar Brunton survey of 500 adults were told that the average retail price of a battery egg was 30 cents, while barn and free range eggs cost around 40 or 50 cents each.

The participants were then asked whether they would be prepared to pay this higher price for barn or free range eggs, if this meant that hens no longer had to live in battery cages. Seventy-nine per cent said they would be prepared to pay the higher prices. Fifteen per cent said they would not be prepared to pay extra and six per cent said they were unsure.

Similar results were registered when participants were asked whether or not the practice of keeping hens in battery cages was acceptable. The practice was deemed unacceptable by 78 per cent and acceptable by 14 per cent with 8 per cent saying they didn't know.

There was also agreement from 79 per cent of those surveyed to the proposition that battery cages should be banned as soon as possible and no later than 2010. Only 11 per cent of participants disagreed with this view.

The survey of adults aged 15 or more living in New Zealand's 15 major centres was conducted between 17th and 22nd April 2002. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 per cent.

"These results provide absolute and damning refutation of poultry industry claims that outlawing battery cages would make eggs too expensive, " says Hans Kriek, National Campaign Coordinator for the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"There really is no excuse now for government not moving quickly to end this cruel method of egg production once and for all.

"Under the 1999 Animal Welfare Act, public opinion has to be taken into account when animal welfare codes are set or reviewed.

"If government doesn't ban battery cages, it will be treating both the Act and the public with contempt."