Sunday, July 11, 2010

An open letter to the Egg Industry and politicians

What is Free Range ?  Petition

The issue of farm stocking densities is essentially an agricultural matter, but proposals by the Australian Egg Corporation to increase chicken stocking densities to 20,000 birds per hectare and still allow the farm to be classified as 'free range' also has serious implications for animal welfare and consumer expectations. At a time when most countries are tightening their farm animal welfare standards, here, the Australian Egg Corporation is floating ideas for new standards for free range egg production which will allow de-beaking or beak trimming of hens as a matter of course, stocking densities on farms to increase from 1500 hens per hectare to a massive 20,000 and hens to be kept locked in sheds for up to 25 weeks.

Understandably, the free range industry and consumers are in turmoil. We agree with the Egg Corporation that the current standards for free range egg production need to be changed - but they need to be tightened up to ensure that consumers are not misled. The changes proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation will allow large producers to charge customers a premium for branding their eggs as 'free range' without incurring the additional costs of genuine free range production methods. The proposed AECL stocking density equates to a DSE (Dry Sheep Equivalent) of 400 per hectare which would be a totally unsustainable land use.

Impacts on adjoining landholders and on our waterways are likely to be huge if the proposed stocking densities are implemented. Quite apart from environmental damage and animal welfare issues, these proposals will mislead consumers about what they are buying and will further alienate them, making them even more suspicious of the egg industry.
We are getting some terrific responses on the on-line petition and they clearly demonstrate that the Australian Egg Corporation talks nonsense when it says animal welfare is a minor issue in a buyers' decision to purchase eggs. The egg corporation's consumer research deliberately targetted buyers who had no interest in, and therefore no understanding of free range standards. The research was clearly flawed and was designed to provide a pre-determined result.

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