What price has Coles put on free range?

It seems that we are all so keen to put an end to this long running battle over sow stalls and caged eggs, that we are treating Coles like a knight in shining armour that has ridden in to save the day. Coles have made a lot of promises that will allow many of the battle weary to get off the animal welfare treadmill, stop beating their drums and walk away with consciences appeased. But does Coles deserve such accolades?

Banning sow stalls, saying no to caged eggs - it’s just what the consumer wanted to hear, but how many of them will stop and think about the follow on effect these announcements will have on the pork and egg industries? Or even how Coles plans to implement this change and be in a position to verify that producers meet these requirements?

Has Coles forgone the details, or do they have standards, guidelines and auditing systems in place? Judging by recent activity in the egg and pork industries, I would suggest they have dumped this responsibility on the peak industry bodies, hence the mad scramble for the intensification of free range systems.

Free Range pork and eggs represent a small portion of those industries because of the size of this sector, not because of lack of demand. Most true free range systems are very extensive, labour intensive and require quite large areas of land for their operation. Already the Australian Egg Corporation has attempted to make dramatic changes to the stocking densities for free range chickens to accommodate Coles. Pork is moving to intensive outdoor pig production units.

How will Coles keep the price of free range eggs and pork down? How will it fulfill market demand when supply just isn’t available? These products presently come from farming systems with higher production costs. No doubt Coles will squeeze the farmer and force them to cut costs at the expense of animal welfare, the environment and the integrity of their product. Stocking densities will be increased, which has the potential to cause serious harm to the environment. A poorly managed outdoor system will impact not just on the welfare of the animals but also on that of humans with concentrations of manure leaching nutrient into our groundwaters and runoff into our rivers, and degradation of air quality.

Free Range is set to become a supermarket label with very little meaning. Coles will be happy for you to go on believing that free range means just that: free to range and that the animals grown under these systems spent their lives frolicking on grassy meadows. Free Range will become nothing more than a fantasy.

Without farming systems based on pasture, there will be no such thing as genuine free range. Instead we will have an unregulated industry driven by profit and the pressure of demand. What will the true cost of supplying free range to the supermarkets be? I don’t think any of us will be able to afford a supermarket version of free range.

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22/11/2010 4:21:23 PM

Yes it certainly make me wonder how Coles will get all those 'free range' eggs at lower prices. The Australian Egg Corporation is going flat out to help by trying to lower the standards for free range egg production to permit intensive farming - that's the only way it can work as long as consumers fall for it.
Farmers Friend
23/11/2010 6:03:12 AM

I do hope that Coles is not trying to pull the wool over our eyes. It seems a step in the right direction. A government funded certification body could be a good way to ensure that the eggs are indeed from true free range farms.
ME Again
23/11/2010 6:58:30 AM

Coles will do what it always does: screw the farmer to accept the same price or less, but also screw the consumer by charging more for the "premium product". Farming the farmers and farming the consumers. This is their last few years of this power position: macro factors and combined action by farmers and consumers will see Coles as a small beer player in 10 years.
23/11/2010 7:29:57 AM

Coles will make up the shortfall with imports. I can't imagine that they will put the same high standards on the imported rubbish.
mrs e
24/11/2010 6:00:18 PM

Absolutely, R! Just the same as happens (not only with Coles!) now! Time for us all to get out our polystyrene boxes (even if they aren't environmentally friendly) and start our own vege patches in good old Aussie dirt! At least we know where it has been, and more or less what has happened to it! Time for us to put up a chook pen and let our chooks out for a run each day, but lock them up at night to keep them away from the ferals that roam the countryside, and the imports like foxes that create havoc, and the 'hybrids'. BUT time for our elected representatives to begin putting Australia and Australians, farmers and oothers, first!
Matilda B
26/11/2010 3:16:14 PM

Why should the public really worry about farmers' pockets when they buy pig products or eggs? The suffering of these living creatures must over-ride financial issues, and profits. Using animals to make a living has large responsibilities and the animals' welfare must be paramount. Good on Coles for responding to public concern.
27/11/2010 5:01:29 AM

To Matilda B. You obvioulsy have no contact with farmers and as such your comments are as silly as can be. All farmers are concerned about animal welfare as they are our bread and butter. We do not need people as ill formed as you to tell us how to look after our animals. Be a vegitarian if you so chose but keep your foolish comments to yourself. Coles do not have your or our welfare in mind only profits.
meg parkinson
28/11/2010 10:11:14 AM

If you want quality free range products look for a credible, thrid party audited, certification scheme such as Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd.
Hilly Chick
3/12/2010 1:48:19 PM

All farmers care about the "welfare" of their animals??? I've worked on some pretty big sheep properties where the welfare of the animals was the last thing on anybody's mind. What farmers mean when they say "animal welfare" is simply keeping the animals alive for as long as they need, it has nothing to do with ensuring the animals live lives free from fear, pain, hunger or thirst, free to express natural behaviours. The whole mulesing debate is a prima facae case, rather than breed wrinkle free sheep, use pain relief or adopt other strategies like increased crutching, it took those radical animal libbers to finally get the industry to start to consider more humane options. If the animal libbers hadn't made such a fuss very few sheep farmers would be looking at phasing the practice out. If intensive pork, chook and egg producers are so proud of the welfare of their animals why aren't they inviting the cameras in to show the public just how welfare friendly the conditions in which they keep their animals really are? Coles is no corporate angel but good on it for taking this first, tiny step to improving the lives of a small percentage of food producing animals.
4/12/2010 5:52:01 AM

Coles and Woolworths need to realise that the vast majority of their customers are normal, meat eating people, who of course, care about animals welfare, but are practical realists. Coles and Woolworths need to realise all the letters and emails they are getting about pigs and chickens are from a tiny group of fundamentalist zeolots who hide behind the tame name "Animals Australia", but the organisation is actually a conglomerate of Animal Liberation and Vegan Societies, with a very small membership, but who have clever PR. Animals Australia want all eggs, chicken and pork off the shelves full stop.
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