RSPCA slam free range egg labelling standards

03 Apr, 2016 02:00 AM
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Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer.
Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer.

RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow has slammed moves by the federal government to unscramble consumer misunderstanding of free range eggs by defining a new labelling standard.

Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer announced today that State and Territory consumer affairs ministers had met and agreed that 10,000 hens per hectare would be the maximum stocking rate set for a new Information Standard.

But Dr Goodfellow said the government agreement requiring hens to have ‘meaningful and regular access’ to the outdoors, at up to 10,000 hens per hectare, failed to provide the animal welfare assurances consumers were seeking on free range egg production.

He said RSPCA Australia believed free range hens should be stocked at a maximum rate of 1500 hens per hectare or up to 2500 if a regular rotation system was in place.

Dr Goodfellow said the announced decision put the interests of big business ahead of consumers, with hen welfare coming a distant third.

“The definition of ‘meaningful and regular access’ to the range is absolutely critical to the integrity of the Information Standard,” he said.

“The flock size, stocking densities inside and outside, layout of the barn, and the number of openings, are all crucial to determining whether hens have ‘meaningful and regular access’.

“The conditions of the range, including whether shelter is provided, also play a critical role.”

Dr Goodfellow said the consumer affairs ministers must ensure ‘meaningful’ access actually meant something to the hen “or else all of this has been a monumental waste of time”.

He said in genuine free-range farms, all hens were able to access an outdoor range where they felt safe and protected and could express essential behaviours like dust bathing and foraging, while inside, they could perch and lay their eggs in a nest.

“It’s important to note that none of these conditions are afforded to the 11 million hens currently confined to battery cages around the country,” he said.

“These hens suffer intensely and continuously throughout their lives.

“Consumers choose free range to avoid cages and they deserve a standard they can have full confidence in.”

The RSPCA’s position aligned with that of the Humane Society International which said the government had decided to join with supermarkets and big agribusiness to “legislate for deception”.

HSU said submissions to Treasury - during the consultation process that started last October to develop the new Information Standard - were overwhelmingly in favour of supporting 1500 birds per hectare while only 14 submissions supported 10,000 per hectare.

But Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said the new Information Standard for free range egg labelling would give consumers confidence to know they’re getting what they’ve paid for and 10,000 hens per hectare, was the minimum standard.

“Those people who want to label their product with less chooks per hectare can make that very clear to the consumer and the consumer will be able to choose,” she said.

“The argument has been about creating a minimum standard here and I think that’s important to note.

“We say there is going to be a cap of no more than 10,000 chooks per hectare; that is the maximum cap.

“And of course those people who have different methods of farming free range eggs may choose to only have 1500 chooks per hectare, they will again be able to, for the first time, put that on the label of their product.”

Ms O’Dwyer said consumers would be able to compare the stocking density rate of one particular product, like 1500 chooks per hectare, versus another product at 10,000 per hectare.

She said if consumers in supermarkets choose to pay for the product with a 1500 chook stocking density, “they’ll be able to make that choice due to the information standard we’ve put in place”.

Ms O’Dwyer said “meaningful and regular access” meant the chook could leave the barn and scratch around in the pasture outside and be able to “range” without being impeded.

“That ‘range’ is exactly what we mean by free range eggs,” she said.

“At the moment there is a lot of confusion, that forcing chooks out into the range on most days, in all sorts of weather conditions, wasn’t necessarily in the best interests of the chooks,” she said.

“So you need to have a sensible, common sense definition of free range which is what we’ve delivered on today.”

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FarmOnline
Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Makka
3/04/2016 2:20:49 PM

Who cares what the densities are- so long as each producer clearly and honestly states what they are, on their packaging. Let the buyers then discriminate.
John Niven
3/04/2016 7:36:57 PM

The health of the chooks may be business of RSPCA. Not how many chooks per hectare. Just another circus sticking their nose in trying to justify their existence.
Archibald
4/04/2016 4:58:29 AM

"Meaningful and regular access to outdoors", hopeful they'll ask the chooks and they'll got a response. Anyone for scrabble?? Now the government can move on to something a bit more important, hang on, maybe not!!
Hugh
4/04/2016 11:53:13 AM

Research has shown that when presented with visual representations of what 10,000 chooks per hectare vs 1,500 chooks per hectare actually look like, consumer expectations of "free range" are aligned with the smaller density. The only people who were interested in and advocating for higher densities were those that stand to make higher profit from them, and this was a minority of submissions. The purpose of this consultation process has not been fulfilled, the standard has simply been set at the lowest level that they could get away with to please those who donate big money to politicians.
Philip Downie
4/04/2016 1:43:48 PM

Barny first the grassfed levy now this ridiculous stuff up and what would someone from Inner melb know about chickens and what density means?
Cattle Advocate
4/04/2016 7:00:13 PM

On 17/12/2015 AR activists tresspassed on a UK RSPCA accedited free range egg farm and filmed in a 16K bird barn at night. The birds were being treated for enteritis since Aug 2015, the footage was given to the media on 20/1/2016. Farm Owner '' The horrific consequences of the irresponsible publicity seeking behaviour of animal rights activists are well known in Norfolk following the suicide of Norfolk [pig] farmer Stephen Brown in 2012. As a fund raising exercise, terrifying egg laying hens under veterinary supervision to the point where several die and many stop laying eggs-
Cattle Advocate
4/04/2016 7:16:36 PM

Farm Owner ''-has to be a questionable activity. All this was done during a national avian influenza crisis where strict bio-security protocols must be followed when entering poultry units , and at a time when these chickens were under strict medical control due to their treatment for an uncomfortable condition '' RSPCA UK ''The farm records clearly showed that the farmer had sought veterinary attention without delay in accordance with the RSPCA welfare standards-and the flock was treated with antibiotics '' About 50pc of UK eggs are caged.

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