Friday, January 17, 2014

New voluntary 'free range' standard in US

There's a new voluntary standard for 'free range' egg production in the United States - but it is probably doomed like all the other schemes because it doesn't have teeth and is not backed by legislation.

The organisation Humane Farm Animal Care spent about two years developing a scientific basis for its new definitions. But did it really need to bother? What it came up with was little better better than the useless definitions used by by accreditation bodies here in Australia. It says 'Pasture Raised' means that the outdoor stocking density should be no more than 1500 hens per hectare (which is the density most free range producers in Australia say should be a maximum here for classification as free range).

But the discussion could be useful if politicians, bureaucrats and egg producers choose to listen and agree on legislation. We need full-on debate now that the Model Code is under review. Barnaby Joyce should take the opportunity to involve the industry and consumers in the process. What is needed is a definition that meets sustainable farming practices, production  realities, consumer expectations and animal welfare issues. Not hard to achieve as long as the vested interests of big business are not allowed to dominate the process as it has for years.

Details here:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Egg printing options

There are so many egg printing/stamping options around that it's all a bit of a blur trying to work out the most effective system for our farm.
We have ordered a single egg stamper which will be used over the next few months while we continue the search for a laser or inkjet printer which we can couple with our elderly grading machine.
It will be interesting to get the reactions of our customers at Farmers' Markets when they first see printing on our eggs.
The ink used is supposedly food grade.
It's all part of national food safety regulations and everyone selling eggs in Victoria is required to comply by November this year. (I almost foolishly said they must comply - but of course they won't). Currently there are many egg sellers who ignore regulations. They are not registered with their Council, or with DEPI and have have no idea about food safety issues. Why are genuine producers forced to meet the cost of compliance when so many backyarders flout the system?
They sell their dodgy eggs on the roadside or at markets (even those which claim to be accredited Farmers' Markets)  every week and no-one does anything about it. I will raise this issue again with our local environmental health officer at our next inspection!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Does the egg industry need a Quality Assurance scheme?

The Australian Egg Corporation really is a law unto itself. A letter arrived today advising that a consultant had been appointed 'to help provide AECL with clarity on whether a national industry based Quality Assurance scheme is required by egg producers.'
What the .... !!!!!!!

AECL has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of members funds in developing its ill-fated Egg Standards Australia debacle which was rejected by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Wouldn't it have been sensible to find out if the scheme was wanted or needed before spending all that dough?

In the letter, AECL asks three questions:
1.should the egg industry have a QA scheme?
2. if so, should AECL offer such a scheme?
3. if the answer is yes, then 'how' should the scheme be offered, taking account of structure and resources?

Well in response to those questions:

1. No. What's important is to have a national standard reflecting provisions in the Model Code. The industry needs clear definitions covering production types (cage, barn and free range) and those definitions must be enshrined in legislation to prevent the sort of nonsense which the corporate egg industry has been getting away with for years. The only other real requirement is meeting food safety regulations which are in place in all States.

2. No. AECL has demonstrated its incompetence with its 20,000 hens per hectare stocking density proposal for free range farms. Farms can readily develop their own QA schemes having regard to an enforceable Model Code (or its successor) and State Food Safety Regulations. As a lobby group, there is no place for AECL to have any involvement in the implementation or oversight of any such scheme. There are already Food Safety Regulations in place with compliance administered by State Governments and local councils - there is no need for this process to be duplicated.

Will AECL take any notice? I doubt it.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Egg Corporation 'not into agri-political activity'

There's always a snippet of interesting information which comes from the Annual Meeting of the Australian Egg Corporation.

The latest one was no exception. The draft minutes show that at the meeting in Perth in November, Mr Don Andary asked "If AECL would respond to comments by a South Australian MP about AECL."

The question presumably was about comments by Liberal Member Michael Pengilly who said: " The Australian Egg Corporation, as far as I am concerned, is nothing much short of a mob of crooks."

There was widespread agreement with that comment at the time.

But the response by AECL Chair Jeff Ironside at the AGM was "Under the terms of the Statutory Funding Agreement, AECL was prohibited from undertaking agri-political activity."

That's news to the industry as AECL has been up to its neck in agri-politics for years. If that has come to a halt, we all welcome it.

Ethical Eggs

Here's most of the article 'Ethical Eggs' written by Lesley Lopes and published in the latest issue of G Magazine. It will help to make the corporate egg industry businesses reassess their actions.
'Eggs aren't just eggs any more. There are cage eggs, barn-laid, cage-free, organic, cruelty-free, free-range and more. And when it comes to free-range - one of the fastest growing sectors of the market - the choices only seem to be getting more confusing and the guarantees of product authenticity more blurred.
Free-range eggs now account for about 38 per cent of the retail market compared to ten percent in 2000, according to egg industry body, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL), But one so-called free-range egg can be quite different to another.
Most of us would think of free-range chooks as birds that are free to wander in the outdoors for much of the day, with enough shelter from the elements and predators, space and food to lead comfortable Iives. But when you reach for the 'free-range' eggs at the supermarket, you could be buying product from farms that have many thousands more birds per hectare than the 1500 considered the ideal by a nationaI Model Code of Practice. The problem is that the Code is voluntary - it was endorsed by every state and territory in 2002 but not everyone adheres to it.
The AECL has said that nearly 30 per cent of eggs produced in Australia come from farms running more than 20,000 birds per hectare.
Indeed. one farm in Young, NSW, where an outbreak of a strain of bird flu forced the culling of about 400,000 birds, was found to have 80,000 birds in an area of 1.6 ha. There has been much debate of late between big and small egg producers, animal welfare agencies and government about the national egg production standards. When we wrote this story, all players were waiting for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission {ACCC) to make a move toward regulating the egg Industry nationally.
In 2012, the AECL made a submission to the ACCC for a Certification Trade Mark that would allow eggs from farms with 20,000 hens per hectare to be labelled as free - range. In rejecting the submission, the ACCC said the proposed standard may mislead consumers about the nature of eggs described as free range. "The strong public interest in this matter shows that consumers want clear and accurate labelling of eggs," ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said at the time. adding that it did not accord with consumer expectations about free -range egg production.
A 'cage-free' label means it likely your as have come from chocks that live entirely indoors in barns. The 'pasture ranged organic' label is designed to differentiate free-range hens that are free to wander on pasture from those chickens that are perhaps kept indoors or only let outdoors infrequently.
And just because the eggs are labelled 'free-range' doesn't mean the hens have been fed differently from caged birds, or organically - they could be eating the same animal-derived products or genetically modified grains that can be fed to caged birds.
The Queensland government approved an increase of free -range layer hen stocking densities in July from 1,500 to 10,000. Coles and Woolworths supermarkets have also been selling free-range labelled eggs that come from farms with 50,000 birds per hectare, about which the Humane Society International (HSI) has complained to the ACCC.
'We must not sacrifice the livelihoods of genuine free-range producers, promote consumer fraud, or impact on the welfare of millions of animals to appease a few large producers who are looking to redefine 'free-range' to mirror their intensive free -range operations' said a statement from the HSI. The organisation has called on the government for a national legislated free -range standard.
Research by consumer group CHOICE shows that free-range eggs cost almost twice the price of cage eggs and one-fifth more than barn-laid eggs.
And consumers often don't always get what they paid for. CHOICE lodged a complaint with the NSW Department of Fair Trading, saying there was an urgent need for a clear national definition of 'free-range' and tighter regulation.
Free-range practices came under fire from Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce who claimed they were more likely to cause an outbreak of avian influenza than other egg production processes. His comment came in the wake of the culling of birds at the Young farm, but it was subsequently shown the farm in question far exceeded recognised bird densities at about 80.000 per hectare, and most of the culled birds ware caged.
"This shows how corrupt the industry is and how duped consumers are," says Verna Simpson, HSI Director. Both the Humane Society International and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon have called on Mr Joyce to retract or clarify his statement, saying the strain of bird flu In question is more likely caused by overcrowding.
"Supermarkets have applied so much pressure to producers to supply cheap 'free range' eggs for their private labels that farmers are prepared to compromise human health and our food security to meet their demands," Verna adds. "lf people can only afford cage eggs, that's fine, but these eggs should be labelled accordingly"
All eyes are on the ACCC as we await its next move'.