Thursday, April 08, 2010

007 retires

No not James Bond - Phil Westwood the Egg Corp Assured Auditor with the 007 prefix.
I've been part of the audit team set up by the Australian Egg Corporation since the inception of the National Egg Quality Assurance Program. But now I will spend more time on the farm and consulting on environmental issues.
The ECA program has evolved over the years and it now covers some aspects of environmental management as well as  food safety standards on farms. It also audits grading floors - whether they are part of a farm operation or a separate entity, grading and packing eggs from various suppliers.
The costs associated with being an auditor for the ECA program make it unviable for a small operator like me. There has been insufficient work to justify the expenses - which is presumably one of the reasons the Australian Egg Corporation is handing over auditing rights to a 'global auditing company'.
The program has been vital in trying to gain consumer confidence in the face of all the scandals about the lack of 'truth in labelling' . There have been so many examples both here and overseas where smart operators have substituted eggs so they could make a quick buck.
The ECA logo on a carton of eggs is one of the assurances consumers have to give them confidence about product traceability which guarantees that the eggs in the carton were produced by the method identified on the label.
The only real issues about 'truth in labelling' concern 'free range' eggs. No-one is going to pretend that they are selling cage eggs if they are really free range - but some producers want the financial benefit that comes with claiming that their eggs are 'free range' when they are from barn or even cage operations. From consumer research at Farmers' Markets, it's known that 100% of buyers of 'free range' eggs believe that the hens are not de-beaked or beak trimmed and that they are roaming on pasture all day. Unfortunately that is not the reality. Most 'free range' eggs are laid by de-beaked hens and many may only have 'access to' an outdoor area for part of the day - but they spend little if any time outside. At best, they comply with the legal requirements of the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry, which is the only 'free range' test of Egg Corp Assured compliance for this aspect of the program. But at worst, they don't even meet the low standards of the Model Code and yet they are sold as 'free range' eggs.
To be sure that the hens really are allowed to range freely, buyers should always look for the logo of the Free Range Farmers Association, which conducts independent inspections of member farms every year to ensure compliace with strict standards.

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