Saturday, August 31, 2013

Open Day to celebrate World Egg Day

World Egg Day is on the second Friday in October every year - so this year it's October 11. To mark the occasion, we will have an Open Day on the Freeranger Egg farm at Grantville on Sunday October 13. (An open day on a Friday probably wouldn't work and we can't do the Saturday because we have two Farmers' Markets. So Sunday the 13th it is!
We will be able to demonstrate how a genuine free range farm operates with low stocking densities; without the need for feeding pellets containing meat meal and colouring additives; without beak trimming the hens and without having to lock our chooks up - even at night.
The Open Day is in addition to workshops on starting a free range egg farm which are run throughout the year on the Grantville property. The last one was as part of Fair Food Week a couple of weeks ago. (We will probably run another workshop in November but we haven't set a date yet).
We will get information kits together for visitors to the farm Open Day to take away with them.

The first World Egg Day, organised by the International Egg Commission was celebrated in 1996.
Much more info later.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What does 'free range' mean?

Freeranger Eggs is currently not involved with any industry accreditation body other than the Victorian Farmers Markets' Association. We are registered as a free range egg farm with our Council, Bass Coast Shire and with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Until June 30 this year, we were members of (and accredited by) the Free Range Farmers Association. But we chose not to renew our membership as the association failed to uphold and maintain its own standards and had failed to conduct farm inspections during the year (which is about the only significant cost to the Association and is the only benefit for members).

We also had a partnered accreditation agreement with Humane Choice. But with the actions of the committee of the Free Range Farmers Association in destroying the credibility of FRFA, that agreement has lapsed even though it was set to run until next November. Verna Simpson, the CEO of the Humane Society International which operates the Humane Choice program has sent us  this invitation:"As FRFA does not seem to be continuing as a certification body you are welcome to become a full HC farm. Your farm is what free range farming is all about and you would obviously have no trouble meeting our audit requirements. It is just a shame that FRFA’s internal issues could not be resolved."

The problem erupted over the re-accreditation by the FRFA committee of a farm which breached the Association's standards by packaging eggs from non-accredited sources (egg substitution) and not taking action against farms which used pelleted feed containing colouring additives. The use of manufactured colouring additives was specifically banned by the FRFA standards.

As things stand, there is no accreditation body in Australia which meets the standards we have maintained on the Freeranger Eggs farm.

Some of the egg accreditation organisations are formally recognised by Governments – but some are not.

Here's brief view of the accreditation systems currently around in Victoria.

Egg Corp Assured – Allows beak trimming and unlimited stocking densities in sheds or range areas – The Australian Egg Corporation has acknowledged that some 'free range' farms run 40,000 hens per hectare or more. It also has no restrictions on the inclusion of meat meal or colouring additives in feed.

RSPCA - Not interested in accrediting small producers as they have a royalty system in place which provides an income stream for them per dozen eggs sold and they want volume producers. Allows beak trimming and outdoor stocking densities of up to 2500 hens per hectare. It seems there are no restrictions on feed or colouring additives. Apparently there are only two RSPCA accredited free range egg farms throughout Australia.

Humane Choice – Does not allow beak trimming. Maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare. Allows colouring additives. Does not allow the use of same species in meat meal used in hen rations. 

Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd – Allows beak trimming. Stocking densities appear to be variable. No restrictions on feed.

Free Range Farmers Association – Does not allow beak trimming. Limits stocking density to 750 hens per hectare (but committee members have said they want to increase the numbers to 1500). Now allows manufactured colouring additives in the feed ration. Allows meat meal in the feed (which may be derived from poultry).

Organic certification -  This is probably the closest to the standards we have at Freeranger Eggs. But at least one of the certification bodies (NASAA) allows manufactured colouring additives in the chook food.

Is it any wonder that the industry is in turmoil and that consumers are confused? Happy to hear your comments.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How 'free range' are the eggs consumers buy?

Problems in the New Zealand egg industry appear to be exactly the same as the issues free range egg farmers have here in Australia.
Here's a clear report about what is going on there:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Controlling aggression in chickens without beak trimming

Beak trimming of laying hens is still a widespread practice in Australia – even in 'free range' flocks of birds. The majority of so-called free range farms are intensive production systems with flocks of many thousands of hens.

Even the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry, which provides the only widely accepted national definition of the term 'free range' states that every effort should be made to avoid beak trimming by selecting birds which have more docile tendencies.

But the reality is that intensive free range farms beak trim their birds as a matter of course because they want to run large numbers and they chose to use high producing hens developed for the cage industry. These hens have been selectively cross bred for only two traits – maximum egg production and minimum feed intake. This often means they are aggressive and cannibalistic.

It is important to select a strain of bird that is less aggressive, and to get breeders to breed birds that are more docile. Research has shown that breeding for low aggression can have a marked effect in only 4 or 5 generations. Dr Mike Gentle, a U.S. researcher in this area, has concluded:
" In the long term, beak trimming should be phased out and undesirable behaviour controlled by environmental means and by increased effort being devoted to the genetic selection of commercial stocks which do not engage in damaging pecking, either in cages or when floor-housed in large flocks. "

In our view, hens should be kept in groups small enough to be able to recognise each other. At Freeranger Eggs we run maximum flock sizes of 250 – 300 birds.

Hens need to express their natural behaviour, including the strong urge to peck. They must have material in which to forage and dust bathe.

Good husbandry is a major factor in reducing aggression, especially preventing conditions that cause frustration in hens. They must also have an adequate and well-balanced diet, easy access to food and water, enough space, and minimum disturbance.

Egg farmers need to make a much greater effort to control aggression without beak trimming. From our experience talking with consumers at Farmers' Markets, they do not believe that 'free range' production should involve the beak trimming of birds. Aggression and cannibalism is a behavioural problem which is easily solved by effective poultry management and selection of birds.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Egg labelling is a shambles in Australia

Egg labelling laws and accreditation processes are a shambles in Australia because there is no legally recognised national definition of the term 'free range'. The Queensland Government has relaxed its regulation limiting stocking densities to 1500 hens per hectare on free range farms to 10,000 per hectare.

The NSW Government seems set to reject a Truth in Labelling Bill which has passed the Upper House and the SA Government is introducing a 'voluntary' code for the industry in that State.

Egg substitution has been rife for years but probably first came to general notice in Victoria during 2007 with a high profile case when a company was fined for labelling eggs as organic when they were from conventional farms.

In 2012, a NSW barn egg farm was fined for packaging its eggs as free range and a South Australian egg seller was fined for putting cage eggs in free range cartons.

Also in 2012. An egg farm in WA was caught with a huge overstocking rate which breached its planning conditions. This farm was accredited by a national egg quality scheme but despite annual audits which required compliance with planning conditions the farm remained accredited. The accreditation was only withdrawn once the breaches became public and legal proceedings began.

In Victoria in 2012 inspection and audit processes revealed that a farm was packing and selling non-accredited eggs from dubious sources and that colouring additives were being used in poultry feed – breaching particular standards.

Labels can also be misleading, with pictures of hens frolicking on green pasture, which frequently don't resemble conditions on the farm.

A questionable 'organic' accreditation body also exists in Victoria which is not recognised by mainstream organic bodies and which does not have a credible inspection process – but claims that the products which its members sell are certified organic. AQIS, which registers organic certification bodies in Australia, is apparently only involved with export industries – so it has no jurisdiction over domestic 'organic' claims.

Accreditation means different things to different people. Consumers rightly expect it to convey a message of credibility about a particular product, but to many businesses it's simply a marketing tool designed to allow them to make claims which increase their profits.

Similarly, a logo can be a valuable asset if it is trusted by consumers. But it's value can be destroyed if it is shown to be meaningless. Any accreditation program is only as good as the willingness of the accreditation body to maintain its standards and defend its logo.

That is why it is so disappointing that standards are ignored by accreditation bodies. Even using things like egg yolk colourings should be disclosed to consumers. Everyone expects cage farms to use them to enhance yolk colour but it is neither needed nor necessary on a genuine free range farm with low stocking densities and plenty of green feed.

To maintain ethical standards and credibility, all certification bodies need to defend their standards and take action against suppliers who break the rules.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has asked many egg producers to justify the claims made on their packaging – claims such as 'free range'.

Hopefully this will start a 'clean-up' process.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bird Flu research - report from UK

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say that a limited cross infection of bird flu from human to human is not surprising.

They say that in China the majority of the 133 confirmed cases reported so far seem to be epidemiologically unconnected, with many patients reporting a recent history of exposure to live poultry, which are suspected to be a main reservoir for the virus. Although an earlier study did report two family clusters of H7N9 cases, it was unclear whether these clusters resulted from person to person transmission or simply from exposure to a common animal source of infection.

The researchers say that although the study, led by the Jiangsu Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention, provides the strongest evidence yet of H7N9 transmission between humans, it probably does not mean that the virus has come one step closer towards adapting fully to humans.

The full report in the British Medical Journal is here: