Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Density increase shocks Australian free-range farmers

The following article appears in the latest issues of UK magazines. Farmers Weekly and Poultry World.
Scott Casey Thursday 11 November 2010

Free-range egg farmers in Australia could be facing an increase in the stocking density permitted on farms to improve commercial viability.

Levy body, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL), which represents the entire egg sector, has been researching changes that could see the current maximum of 1500 birds/ha expanded to anywhere up to 10,000 birds/ha or beyond. UK limits are just 2000 birds/ha.

Philip Westwood from the Free-Range Farmers Association said he believed the new stocking density would be closer to 20,000 birds/ha and that calling such farms "free-range" would mislead consumers.

"Obviously, the stocking densities they are proposing, no sane person would consider to be free range," Mr Westwood said. "If they do go ahead with this, it's going to destroy consumer confidence."

But AECL executive director James Kellaway told Farmers Weekly that an online survey of 5000 people had shown the average consumer was happy with a stocking density for free range of 10,000 birds/ha.

Mr Kellaway added that he didn't believe producers working to the current stocking density could be commercially viable.

"The stocking rate needs to be high enough so it is achievable, but low enough that it is clearly differentiated from the other two standards [barn and cage]. It needs to be obtainable on a commercial scale," Mr Kellaway said.

Mr Kellaway's comments are an insult to all those operators of commercial free range egg farms who have been supplying customers for many years and who have met all current standards. Presumabably what Mr Kellaway means is that the big farms want to make extra profits by pretending they are producing free range eggs.

The guidelines have not yet been set, but Mr Kellaway said he expected the new stocking density would come into effect in December or early January next year.

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