Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Proposed Aussie egg standard ridiculed in UK

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association says that the Australian Egg Corporation's plans to introduce new intensive standards for so-called 'free range' egg production will be good for them because it will show the world just how high the UK standards are.
'But I can't see how it can be good for their birds or their industry to stock birds at these levels and try to call it "free range" said John Retson, Chairman of BFREPA.
We can't see that either! The Australian Egg Corporation appears hell-bent on destroying consumer confidence in our industry. And they expect that their new standard will receive ISO certification. Dream on!
Here's a copy of the BFREPA Chair's letter published in the latest Poultry World magazine.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Opposition to new 'free range' standard is about more than just stocking density

The Australian Egg Corporation's proposed standards for 'free range' egg production have met a barrage of opposition from the industry and consumers.

The absurd proposal is more than just a question of the stocking density being raised from a maximum of 1500 birds per hectare to 10,000 – 20,000 per hectare.

Under the standards (if they are adopted) the young hens will be kept in semi-darkness within electric hot-wired sheds to prevent free roaming and to force them to lay eggs in nests on conveyor belts.

They will be locked in the sheds for the first 26 weeks of their lives to ensure they are set in their habits and are less likely to ever venture outside to forage.

As they can start laying at around 16 – 17 weeks, those eggs should certainly be called barn-laid, but they will be labelled as free range.

They will be beak trimmed at one day old or soon after, which contravenes the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry.

If the weather is too hot, too cold, too wet or windy then the hens will be locked in the sheds because these conditions may cause extra work; for example, mud from dirty feet might clog the belt egg collection system, or having the doors open may interfere with air conditioning.

The proposed standards minimise human contact with the hens and are likely to have adverse effects on good animal husbandry practices and hen welfare.

If the factory farms do let their birds out, it will only be after the hens have finished laying – in the heat of the day. So why would a hen want to go out? They prefer the cool of the early morning and evening.

These standards are being proposed, not for the 'improvement of standards' as claimed by James Kellaway of the AECL, it is simply to facilitate the conversion of free-range egg production into a factory system.

Members of the Free Range Farmers Association Inc. have a maximum stocking density of 750 birds per hectare and beak trimming is prohibited. There is no need for de-beaking or beak trimming on a real free range farm.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cage farmer slams AECL 'free range' proposal

Opposition to the Egg Corporation's insane 'free range' plan comes from some strange places. NSW egg producer, Bede Burke (who is President of the Egg Group of NSW Farmers Federation) has now voiced his concerns.

Until recently his comments suggested that he fully supported the plan to allow a massive increase in stocking densities for 'free range' flocks. But at last he has recognised that the change is likely to have drastic implications for the whole industry.

In an article in The Land he said free-range hens were increasingly housed in congested sheds with minimal room to range outside.

Pressure for the industry to produce more free-range eggs, and the high costs associated with running free-range operations, had encouraged some intensive and "Mickey Mouse" operations.

He feared all farmers and retailers were at risk of being tarnished by a sales boom backlash if common sense did not prevail among opportunistic producers, and supermarket executives who were championing free-range ahead of caged eggs without acknowledging the production facts.

Bede, has 110,000 layers on his cage farm near Tamworth.

He said the free-range egg sales rise was a great result for his industry, but consumers should not be pressured into thinking it was the only way to ethically produce eggs.

"My hens don't die in heatwaves or cannibalise each other, or sit on eggs for days. We don't have flies, dust or parasites in our sheds; we don't need to secondary beak trim, and we have no problems getting labour to work here.

"Australia is lucky to have affluent consumers who can choose to pay extra if they don't want eggs from caged hens, but that doesn't mean alternative production methods aren't just as ethical or carbon emission friendly - or more so."

It's great to get some recognition from a major player in the industry that the Australian Egg Corporation draft 'free range' standard could damage the whole industry if it is implemented.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Survey of egg farmers to see what they think

The Free Range Farmers Association and the national body, Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia are currently surveying egg producers throughout Australia to see how many actually support the Australian Egg Corporation's plans to increase stocking densities.

Completed forms are starting to flow in from all over the country.

Undoubtedly many of the big producers will want the allowed stocking density to increase significantly, but there are many farmers (including some cage ones) who think that the proposed AECL standards are nonsense and will be a marketing disaster.

The brief survey only has two questions:
Do you believe the maximum free range stocking density should remain at 1500 birds per hectare?

If you believe permitted stocking densities should be increased what number do you suggest per hectare?

Participants are encouraged to make any additional comments.

Interestingly, Bede Burke, President of the NSW Farmers Federation egg group seems to have backed away from his support for the AECL draft standard following the Coles supermarkets announcement on pricing for its home brand 'free range' label. He said: "free-range producers expect the move will only drive down profitability, leading to free-range farms becoming intensive open-air factories.

Mr Burke said: "It looks all nice and populist for the consumer, but in reality it is encouraging cowboy operations."

"It’s already happening, Coles demand for free-range eggs is encouraging Mickey Mouse operations run with too many birds, in bad facilities.

"As a result, egg quality, freshness and food safety standards are being and will be compromised," Mr Burke said.

I agree totally with Bede Burke (there's a first).
When the ramifications of the AECL proposal sink in, there probably won't be too many egg producers supporting it - apart from Pace, Farm Pride, Sunny Queen etc.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Egg Corp hatchet job on its own members

It seems that Australian Egg Corporation boss James Kellaway is going all out to destroy what little confidence consumers have in the egg industry. And he's also doing a pretty good hatchet job on his own members.

In his latest revelations about the Egg Corp's plans to allow increased stocking densities on free range farms he actually said the proposals would 'improve' industry standards.

In an article published in The Land and Queensland Country Life newspapers, Mr Kellaway revealed that some 'free range' egg producers currently have a stocking density of 50,000 birds per hectare. And he claimed that the majority of egg producers believed introducing the 20,000 cap early next year would improve industry standards, not make them worse.

"We need to moderate the whole process and take into account the science effectively clipping the wings of those producers who are currently running with inappropriate numbers” he said.

"We don’t want open slather, but we don’t want to disenfranchise producers who are being put under increasing pressure to produce eggs at lowest possible costs.”

If the Egg Corp is aware of any farms breaching the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry, to the extent claimed (the Code stipulates a maximum stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare) we believe it has an obligation to report those farms to the ACCC and to the relevant State authorities.

It seems more likely that this is a smokescreen and the Egg Corporation is trying desperately to defend its indefensible position.

Less than a month ago Mr Kellway insulted many of his members by saying he didn't believe they could be commercially viable at current stocking densities.

And he is supposed to represent us!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hens foraging in native pasture

Some of our oldest flock of Isa Browns foraging in their paddock. The grass is mainly native pasture - Microlaena Stipoides (Weeping Grass) which is ideal for chooks. It's a very hardy grass which generally stays green longer than exotic pasture and is a high protein feed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

AECL comments an 'insult' to egg farmers

The Burnie Advocate in Tasmania published this article yesterday:

NATIONAL egg associations had a fiery exchange recently.

Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia president Phil Westwood said comments made by the Australian Egg Corporation were an insult to operators.

"Recent comments in UK publications by the Egg Corp’s managing director, James Kellaway, that an increase in stocking densities from 1500 to at least 10,000 hens per hectare was essential for free-range farms to be commercial’ is an insult to the operators of existing commercial farms who meet all current standards" Mr Westwood said.

"AECL’s position is hardly credible, as free range egg farms have been operating comfortably in Australia for many years, meeting a maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare.

"It seems that AECL wants the commercial imperative to override consumer choice, farm sustainability and animal welfare requirements." However, Australian Egg Corporation managing director James Kellaway said the statement was "out of context".

"Some egg producers have said to be commercial they need to run that number," he said.

"Some egg producers said they are very productive at 1500." Mr Kellaway said other egg producers said they were not commercially productive at this number.

He said that in the statements made he had been conveying what some egg producers told him.

Sunnyside free-range chicken farmer Ross Hingston said when it came to producing eggs, bigger wasn’t necessarily better.

"The more (hens) you have, the more trouble you have as far as pasture goes," he said.

"I sell a fair bit of feed, and don’t rely entirely on eggs.

"If you relied entirely on eggs you might need to expand." At last count Mr Hingston had 600 laying birds, and supplies eggs to about a dozen shops around the Devonport and Latrobe area.

He was told at the last audit he had room for expansion, but he has no plans to expand just yet.

Mr Hingston said expanding meant employing people and he is currently a one man operation.
I leave it to your imagination to figure out why some operators are telling Mr Kellaway that they are not commercially viable at a stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare. I wonder what the reason could possibly be? Wouldn't be greed would it? No surely not, after all we are talking about ethical business people aren't we? 
Oh dear, there goes the phone again!!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pressure is building on AECL

With Coles' announcement about dumping cage eggs from its Home Brand range, and stocking only 'free range' in its Home Brand category, it must by now be dawning on the Australian Egg Corporation that they are not properly representing egg producers.
They've been playing games with the supermarkets giants - but they lost sight of the fact that they are supposed to represent the interests of the whole egg industry. And that's all of us. Cage, Barn and Free Range producers.
The stupid decision to try to change the standards for 'free range' production demonstrates how out of touch AECL staff are. They haven't only annoyed free range farmers - even the cage boys acknowledge that the draft is bull____ !
Anyway, the Australian Egg Corporation is making itself a laughing stock around the world - have a look at this UK website:

Monday, November 22, 2010

AECL squeals at Coles

The Australian Corporation has its knickers in a knot after Coles announced its decision to phase out  its home brand cage eggs and reduce the price of its home brand 'free range' eggs. Don't know why they are pretending to be upset because this was always planned once AECL tried to water down 'free range' standards.
Here's the press release AECL sent out:
Egg industry supports consumer choice

Coles Supermarkets have announced that they will lower the price of their free-range eggs to encourage consumers to buy eggs that are more “ethically produced”. In addition to this, Coles plans to remove Coles brand of cage produced eggs by 2013, thereby removing the most cost effective egg category available to Australian households in their stores. Coles have entered into this decision without consultation with industry representatives or their own suppliers of eggs, leaving egg farmers disappointed and concerned for the future of their businesses.
“Australian egg farmers are passionate about producing accessible, sustainable and affordable food for Australian families and have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to ensure the welfare, health and safety of egg laying hens, across all recognized egg production systems” declared AECL’s Managing Director James Kellaway.
Coles Merchandise Director, John Durkan stated, “This is part of our ongoing campaign to offer all customers quality fresh food, ethically produced and at affordable prices.” Yet Coles pick and choose what is “ethical” according to their own agenda, rather than relying on fact and scientific reality. Eggs from cage systems offer welfare, food safety and environmental advantages that cannot be found in alternative systems, and by restricting the variety available to consumers, Coles strips shoppers of the freedom to make their own ethical choices at the supermarket checkout.
With nearly 65% of eggs sold at retail, coming from cage systems in Australia (and around 85% worldwide), Coles are dictating to their customers what products they can and cannot purchase. With a growing population expected to reach 36 million by 2050, and 12% of Australian children currently living in poverty, now is not the time to take away one of the most affordable, versatile and nutrient dense foods available.
Australian egg farmers are committed to farming for the future nutrition of all Australians, by offering the freedom for consumers to choose what variety of egg production suits their needs. “Farmers face countless challenges to produce the food we eat, with drought, flood, pests and competition from imported goods, it is disappointing that one of the major retailers in Australia chooses to create further impediments to egg farming families, thereby challenging the viability and sustainability of local food production” added Mr. Kellaway.

Beating up on Coles for listening to its customers doesn't strike me as a very good idea and I can't imagine what James Kellaway is thinking. He's obviously getting some very poor advice particularly as he has spent the past six months trying to push through an intensive 'free range' stocking density standard which will be essential if Coles is to meet its stated objectives.

It seems that AECL agrees with Con Tamvakis and doesn't care what consumers want.

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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Steady rain dampens demand at Coal Creek

Steady rain all morning (which continued for the rest of the day) dampened demand from customers at the second Coal Creek Farmers' Market on Saturday.
It reinforced the need to have other outlets for egg sales rather than simply rely on the markets. The slack sales meant that once I was back on the farm, we were able to fill our delivery orders which need to go out on Sunday.
Coal Creek is now accredited by the Victorian Farmers Markets Association so it is one of the genuine Farmers' Markets held around the state.
Many so-called 'Farmers' Markets' have bodgey stallholders who don't grow or make the stuff they sell - so VFMA accreditation means that customers are not being conned.
It's the same with accredited egg farms. Unless the farm is accredited by the Free Range Farmers Association Inc., the farm probably doesn't meet consumer expectations about stocking densities and whether or not the birds are de-beaked.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More fuss from an egg farmer

I had a very interesting phone call yesterday from a 'free range' egg farmer who wasn't happy with all the noise the Free Range Farmers Association and the Free Range Egg Poultry Association of Australia have been making about the current standards for free range eggs and the proposals put up by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd.
He was one of those turkeys who says 'you'd better be careful my friend' - as if I would want to be his friend!!!!
He wouldn't tell me what specifically he was in a spin about but he described our members as 'hobby farmers' and said I had used information that I had obtained as an Egg Corp Assured Auditor to attack his business.
From his comments I gathered that I can expect a solicitor's letter or a writ for defamation - but I have no idea what he thinks I have said that is not true.
It probably centres around de-beaked (or beak trimmed) birds - but that is factual because those are the hens he buys.
Why he regards us as 'hobby farmers' is another mystery. A number of our members are significantly larger than his operation - and they don't de-beak their hens. There is no need for beak trimming on a real free range farm.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Goodbye Spotswood Farmers' Market

We had an interesting experiment with the Spotswood Farmers' Market - to see if it was worthwhile adjusting our food miles policy to supply our eggs to people in the city.
Almost everyone was telling us we were mad not to be selling in Melbourne - so we thought we would give it a go!
The Spotswood Farmers' Market (on the first Saturday of the month) started in September. The weather was foul so there little wonder that no-one came. The second market was the same day at the replay of the pathetic AFL Grand Final (so again there was an excuse for the non-performance of the market).
Yesterday was the third market at Spotswood and although we sold out (because we had very few eggs to take) most of the stallholders I spoke to were not happy with their sales.
So unfortunately we won't be back there in December and we will continue to concentrate on our core area - within one hour of the farm.
Next Saturday will be the second Farmers' Market at Coal Creek, Korumburra and we hope to be able to build our customer base there to equal Inverloch and Phillip Island.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Methionine in chook food

The absence of feathers on hens can be caused by several things and can be separated into two groups: 1) birds that don't grow feathers and 2) birds that pull them out or break them off. Either problem can be managed by correcting the cause.

The most common reason that feathers do not develop is a deficiency of a critical amino acid (methionine) from the diet of the birds. The feathers of birds contain high levels of methionine which is one of only a few amino acids that contain sulfur, an essential component of feathers. An adequate level of methionine is required in the diet. It occur naturally in many grains but a deficiency results in reduced growth and feather development. A methionine deficient bird will tend to eat feathers in an attempt to satisfy a craving for this amino acid. A bird may even pull them from its own body or from other birds.

Feed rations that are high in plant proteins, such as soybean meal, will contain natural levels of amino acids, including methionine - eliminating the need to add supplements to the ration. But take care not to raise protein levels too much as high-protein diets are not healthy for poultry or the environment. If the hens really have access to pasture (which often has a protein content of 30%) it can be counter-productive to feed a supplementary ration with a protein level of more than 17 - 18%.

Methionine is used extensively as a dietary supplement by human body builders (to enhance muscle bulk). And is is one of the major reasons that commercial meat poultry growers are able to grow their birds so quickly that they are ready for slaughter in just six weeks.

For egg production, if the grains used in making poultry rations contain inadequate levels of methionine, some suppliers add synthetic methionine (DL methionine) to the dietary mix to ensure that the birds receive sufficient amounts. All quality poultry feeds are formulated to contain adequate methionine to maintain growth and feather development. However, if additional grains (such as corn) are fed with the complete feed, then the amount of methionine consumed by the bird can be inadequate for their development. Feeding of additional grains with complete poultry feeds is not recommended.

Chooks that grow feathers well, but which are later pulled out or broken off, the cause is usually management related.

If methionine is added to poultry feed, egg producers should ensure that it is the natural version and not the synthetic DL methionine which is widely available (and cheaper).  Laying hens that consume 100 g of feed per day should ideally have 0.30% methionine in their diet - not hard to achieve with a properly balanced grain-based mix.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The nutritional benefits of eggs

More studies need to be done, but there is growing evidence that eggs from hens raised on pasture have nutritional benefits over the factory farm versions.

In 1974, the British Journal of Nutrition found that pastured eggs had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory farm hens.

In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found pastured eggs in Greece contained 13 times more Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than U.S. commercial eggs. A 1998 study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found that pastured eggs had higher Omega 3 and vitamin E than eggs from caged hens.

A 1999 study by Barb Gorski at Pennsylvania State University found that eggs from pastured birds had 10 percent less fat, 34 percent less cholesterol, 40 percent more vitamin A, and four times the Omega 3 compared to the standard USDA data.

In 2003, Heather Karsten at Pennsylvania State University found that pastured eggs had three times more Omega 3, 220 percent more vitamin E and 62 percent more vitamin A than eggs from caged hens.

In 2007, the US magazine Mother Earth News analysed eggs from 14 free range flocks and compared the results to nutritional data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for commercial eggs, the kind found in most supermarkets.

The free range eggs had:
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more Omega 3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene

But be careful when buying 'free-range' eggs. As long as hens have 'access to an outdoor run' producers are able call their eggs free-range. What this usually means is that there is a small opening where hens could go outside, regardless of whether or not they ever do. In most cases a better description would be 'non-cage eggs'.

Often you can visibly tell the difference, but yolk colour is not always a good guide. Pastured yolks are a rich orange color from the beta-carotene in the plants (as long as there is plenty of green feed in the paddocks). Eggs from a genuine free range farm will vary in yolk colour – depending on the time of year and the amount of green feed available. If the yolk colour is always the same, you can be sure that colouring additives are included in the hens' feed.

It's up to you as the consumer to find out how the chickens are being raised and what they're being fed. One way is to look for the logo of the Free Range Farmers Association which gives you a guarantee that the hens are not de-beaked and that the farm meets hen welfare and strict stocking density requirements. Talk to producers at farmers' markets and find out how they manage their flocks and make sure you are comfortable with the way your eggs are produced.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

'Free Range' research

The egg industry is still in turmoil over proposals by big producers to push the Australian Egg Corporation into changing the standards for 'free range' egg production. The chairman of the Australian Egg Corporation, Jeff Ironside, said in a letter to the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia Inc. that the draft standard had been prepared after 'reviewing 13 international standards and benchmarking current practice in Australia'.

What he failed to add was that none of the standards reviewed by AECL reflected the ludicrous stocking density of up to 20,000 chickens per hectare which it proposed. So, in effect, AECL ignored all the international standards and came up with a scheme which the corporate players wanted.

Make no mistake, eggs are big business and the big end of town wants to make a killing. They can see huge profits in being able to label their eggs as 'free range' without having to do the work associated with running free range flocks.

Mr Ironside also had comments to make on the validity of the consumer survey conducted by the Free Range Farmers Association. He said that AECL's market research consultants found that the research undertaken by FRFA 'cannot be considered as an accurate research exercise'.

Funny that. Free Range Farmers don't think that the survey conducted for the AECL is accurate either.

The difference is that we asked people who actually buy free range eggs what they thought, whereas AECL pulled in anyone to get the result they wanted.

And even worse than that. We gave AECL our research data so they could analyse it. AECL undertook to give us their data – but we are still waiting four months after it was promised. They obviously have a great deal to hide and don't want any scrutiny of their research.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Consumers beware

' I don't care whether the consumer considers that free range birds are not debeaked.

They aren't farmers and have no clue as to what us farmers have to endure.' - Con Tamvakis Victorian egg farmer. Member of the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd

It's hard to believe but I received an email this morning (with the above quote) from a Victorian egg farmer who clearly thinks that customers don't count and should just shut up and hand over their money!!!!

Any businessman who ignores what his customers want is heading for trouble - and unfortunately the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd is leading some of its members down that path as we have no indication that the draft 'free range' egg production standard will be significantly modified prior to its launch before the AECL annual meeting in Adelaide at the end of November.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Egg Corp AGM and Industry Forum

The Australian Egg Corporation's Industry Forum and Annual Meeting will be held in Adelaide this year, on November 24 and 25.

AECL staff have been keen to ensure there will be no debate on proposed changes for 'free range' standards. But that might not succeed as I have challenged James Kellaway (AECL Managing Director) to list statements made by people opposed to the draft standard which he alleges are 'half truths'.

In his column in the industry newsletter Eggstra Eggstra Mr Kellaway made the following assertions:

"Given the research undertaken to date, AECL continues to liaise with industry and consult with egg producers over the draft minimum standards in order to be more objective and measurable on key production parameters for each of the three recognised production systems. AECL is seeking to build industry credibility, accountability and transparency for all Australian egg producers during this process, not diminish it. It has been unfortunate that some egg producers, during this industry consultative phase, have decided to react and 'attack' the draft minimum standards by approaching the media for their own ends and political means by telling half truths and colourful language."

Those assertions have not been substantiated and I challenged his allegations in an email which was copied to many people in the egg industry. There has been significant support from producers all over Australia and others in all sectors of the industry. Some of them I have worked with, but most of them I have never met.
The ball is now in Mr Kellaway's court.
It's sad that the AECL has taken the approach of only focussing on the needs of big business. It's actions demonstrate that it ignores small producers, environmental issues and the views of consumers.

An example of its attitude to the environment is there for all to see on the front of its AGM leaflet. Emblazened across the bottom is the quote:

'We can't impede progress in the name of environmental action that yields little for the environment and even less for our people.. and we should look at the environment as an economic opportunity.' from Meg Whitman who plans to run as governor of California for the Republican Party.

I don't quibble about 'little for the environment and even less for people' ...  that is clearly what she sees as a legitimate view. BUT  'looking at the environment as an economic opportunity' shows a total lack of understanding about the world in which we all live.

We all breath air, we all drink water (well most of us) and it's hard to understand that some of our 'leaders' don't care about future generations. Maybe Meg Whitman and James Kellaway should read Soylent Green.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

FREAL - is it real free range?

It seems that another 'free range' egg association has been formed - presumably as a result of the Australian Egg Corporation's plans to relax production standards for free range farms.
We have no idea what standards or inspection criteria will be used by the Free Range Egg Association Ltd as details have not been released.
The logo on the left has been registered as a trade mark by two businesses closely associated with the Victorian Farmers Federation. One of the businesses is an established cage farm and the other is a consulting firm run by a former senior executive of a major egg packaging and processing company.
It will be interesting to read their standards when they are available so we can all judge how 'real' they are.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ACCC takes no action against AECL

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has replied to the complaint lodged against the 'mislabelling' of free range eggs approved by the Australian Egg Corporation.
Here's part of the response:

I understand from your email that you are concerned by a study that has found that only 9% of ‘free range’ chickens actually use the range area and that the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd are trying to change the amount of chickens allowed per hectare in free range farming.

The ACCC is an independent statutory authority responsible for ensuring compliance with the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) (TPA). The main purpose of the TPA is to promote competition and efficiency in markets within Australia, and to protect consumers and businesses from unlawful anti-competitive conduct or misleading and deceptive practices. The ACCC's role includes fostering fair and informed markets by seeking compliance with the TPA.
The ACCC does not have a definition of what constitutes ‘free range’ eggs under the TPA. These definitions are generally set by certification bodies. You may wish to seek further information from Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia.
However food and beverage labelling may potentially breach the consumer protection provisions of the TPA if the label conveys a misleading or deceptive impression or representation (through words, pictures or other means) or a claim can not be substantiated. Section 52 of the TPA is a broad provision which prohibits a corporation, in trade or commerce, engaging in conduct which is misleading or deceptive, or which is likely to mislead or deceive. Whether particular conduct is misleading or deceptive is a question of fact to be determined in the context of the evidence as to the alleged conduct and to the relevant surrounding facts and circumstances.

The AECL version of 'free range' egg production does not meet the standards of the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia Inc. or of Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd - so I have no idea why the ACCC would suggest contacting them (anyway as I am spokesman for FREPAA Inc I am already well aware of the standards).

It seems that the ACCC will only consider taking action if it gets a flood of complaints from consumers - so log on to the ACCC website and complain away!!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

'Free range' complaint lodged with Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

After discussions with a number of free range and cage egg producers, today I lodged a complaint against the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd with the ACCC over its endorsement of 'free range' egg production standards.

Research which is publicly available on the website of the Poultry CRC (which is funded from a levy paid by all egg producers) shows that only 9% of 'free range' egg laying hens actually use an outdoor range area. The details can be seen at

In our view, this clearly demonstrates that consumers are being mislead and deceived by a system that is endorsed and approved by the Australian Egg Corporation.

And the industry recognises that things will become even more deceptive if the AECL goes ahead with its draft 'free range' standard. The Egg Corporation tries to pretend that's it's only a small number of 'troublemakers' who are voicing concerns - but the reality is that even big cage farmers recognise that the AECL's proposed definition for 'free range' is a crock which will harm the reputation of the whole industry.

The AECL seems hell-bent on sending the message to consumers that 'You can't trust labels on eggs'

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Getting 'free range' on the political agenda

With the Victorian State Election fast approaching, we hope to get 'truth in labelling' and a meaningful definition of the term 'free range' on the political agenda.

Both are substantially Federal issues but our State Minister for Agriculture can play an active role at Ministerial council level.

Queensland has introduced regulations limiting stocking densities on farms claiming to be free range to 1500 hens per hectare – and there's no reason our State Government can't do the same.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Food Inc screening

I will be taking part in a panel discussion following the screening of the film Food Inc in Williamstown (Melbourne) on Tuesday night.

Food Inc is an eye-opening expose of the modern food industry, and is essential viewing for any health-conscious citizen.

‘The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you are eating, because if you did, you might not want to eat it,’’ is a key message in the film

Food, inc. has been described as 'The Inconvenient Truth' of food. This shockumentary graphically and disturbingly reveals the unintended consequences of the concentration of food production to just a handful of massive companies, with processed genetically modified corn and soy as the basis of the national diet.

THIS is an important film. It’s a warning. Don’t follow the US down the path of food self-regulation.

The details are:
Tuesday October 5, 2010
7.15 pm
Williamstown Mechanics Institute
Cnr Melbourne Rd & Electra St.
The screening is fully booked but there is a waiting list in case of cancellations.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Freeranger farm is more than carbon neutral

At Freeranger Eggs, we limit the farm's carbon footprint by imposing a food miles policy for deliveries, using recycled materials and equipment whenever we can, using solar power and mechanical processes - such as collecting eggs by hand and hand cultivation of the farm vegetable garden - as well as an effective waste reduction programme.

As a result, the farm generates only about 60 tonnes of CO2 each year.

But we are better than carbon neutral, we are carbon positive. Our average organic matter in soil tests was 4.1 per cent in 2004, in 2006 it was 6.0 per cent, and in 2009 it was 7.9 per cent. Calculations based on 2-inch deep samples, show that over five years we have sequestered about 14 tons of CO2 per acre or four tonnes of carbon per acre on the grasslands on our property.

We apply no chemical fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides on our land and we believe this policy increases the biological life in the soil and increases the rate of carbon sequestration. All manure is spread on the pastures and in our vegetable garden, minimising methane emissions. We practice rotational grazing on our pastures which has a variable effect with each rotation – taking advantage of photosynthesis to pull CO2 into the plants and then into the roots from where it transfers to the soil.

In addition, over that five year period at least another 5 tonnes of CO2 per acre has been sequestered by the regular growth and replacement of Kangaroo Apples in our main paddocks.

As we have protected native vegetation on approximately 100 acres of the property, regeneration over the five year period has sequestered a further 5 tonnes of CO2 per acre.

This brings a grand total of 1500 tonnes of CO2 sequestered on our property over the five years from 2004 to 2009 – an average rate of 300 tonnes per year compared with the farm's carbon output of around 60 tonnes.

How's that for being carbon positive! A net carbon benefit of 240 tonnes of CO2 per year and no-one pays us a dollar for doing it..

Sunday, September 26, 2010

This is what the Australian Egg Corporation calls 'free range'

The Australian Egg Corporation currently allows beak trimming on all its Egg Corp Assured farms - even if they are called 'free range'. The hens in this photo are on an ECA accredited free range farm and they show the extent of the beak trimming undertaken.
The industry tries to argue that it is now normal practice for a light laser tipping of the upper beak - but this shot, and others, show that claim to be untrue. Consumer research shows clearly that beak trimmng is not acceptable on farms which claim to be 'free range'.
If the Egg Corporation gets away with its plan to change standards for 'free range' egg production, de-beaking will become even more common. Currently, according to the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry, farms are required to find alternative methods to beak trimming which is designed to limit feather-picking and cannibalism in flocks. But the Egg Corporation does nothing to ensure that the Model Code is enforced and allows beak-trimming of hens as a first option. The hens are usually beak-trimmed at day old or soon after.
Beak trimming is completely unnecessary on a genuine free range farm and is prohibited by the Free Range Farmers Association.

This is what real 'free range' is all about

This is part of one flock of our hens just before sunset a couple of evenings ago. There's plenty of room for them and heaps of vegetation - not like the intensive version of 'free range' that the Australian Egg Corporation is still trying to foist on the industry and consumers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

John Brumby and his locust eradication campaign

The Thorax

(with compliments to Dr Seuss and his magnificent book 'The Lorax' (c) 1971

Here is a story we’ll long recall,
Of a poisonous campaign that was forced on us all,
And the wise old Thorax who warned everyone,
Because he realised why it shouldn’t be done.

He said "I’m the Thorax, I speak for the insects.
And all the wild creatures throughout country districts
I speak for the insects, for they have no tongues,
And I'm asking you, Grumby, at the top of my lungs,
What's that stuff you are spraying on our National Parks?"

And Grumby replied "There's no cause for alarm,
This stuff is organic, I’m doing no harm.
I’m being quite useful, I think you will see,
This stuff kills plague locusts. It's alright by me."

"I repeat" cried the Thorax "I speak for the insects."
"I'm busy" said Grumby "so have some respect."
He rushed 'cross the room and in no time at all,
He picked up the phone and he made a quick call.

He called all his friends in the chemical plants,
And he said "Listen here! Here's a wonderful chance,
For all chemical companies to get mighty rich,
To get rid of that stuff you thought you had to ditch.

We'll offload it on farmers. There won't be a hitch."
And in no time at all, in the chemical plants,
all the chemical companies were grabbing this chance.

Oh! Baby! Oh!
How their business did grow!

Some farmers were buying,
But now there'd be more,
All must spray this stuff now,
Grumby made a new law.

Yet again said the Thorax, “I speak for the insects,
And I am concerned about all of these districts
Which you want to spray just as much as you please,
With no thought for how it will kill native bees!

But I'm also in charge of the fat-tailed dunnarts,
Who live in the grasslands on farms, roads and parks,
And happily lived eating insects at ease.

Now...thanks to your spraying all over the ground,
There are no un-poisoned insects left to be found.
And the fat-tailed dunnarts are getting the crummies,
Because they have poison, not food, in their tummies."

Well, Grumby thought this was a sad thing to know,
His friends are in chemicals and their business must grow,
Regardless of crummies in tummies you know.

Grumby was draining the North with big pipes,
When that old nuisance Thorax came back with more gripes.
"I am the Thorax" he coughed and he whiffed,
He sneezed and he snuffled, he snarggled and sniffed.

"Grumby" he said, with his best Grumby glare,
"Grumby! You're making such poisonous air.
The poor grassland birds...why, they're dropping like flies.
And the health of our farmers has been compromised."

"What's more" he snapped, his dander was up,
"Let me say a few words about this fungus stuff.
Metharizium can mutate, some scientists noticed,
And it will kill far more than just the plague locust.

It can kill fish, frogs and other grasshoppers,
So please take away your planes and your choppers.
This fungus is not safe, to spray near the water.
So why are you telling the people they oughta?"

Grumby said "Look here Thorax, we have our rights too,
We intend to go on doing just what we do.
And, for your information, you Thorax, we're figgering
on staying in government
and biggering

Spraying more land with chemicals and fungus,
And there’s no one on earth with power to stop us!"
And at that very moment, there came a small sound,
A Plains-wanderer fell on the ground.

This bird was endangered, how could we let it fall?
The very last Plains-wanderer of them all.

No more birds. No more insects. No more monitoring to be done.
So Grumby and his cohorts went off, every one.
All went back to parliament, to their everyday lives,
Unconcerned for the damage they'd caused with their lies.

That was long, long ago.
And as years have gone by,
We see the results now and all wonder why,
This locust campaign was allowed to go on,
When the Thorax was warning of what could go wrong.

Through the years, the environment's fallen apart,
We've worried about it, with all of our hearts,
Our health's been effected, our children's health too,
And the fat-tailed dunnart’s only found in the zoo.

Unless someone like YOU cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better, it's not.
Love your environment,
Treat it with care,
Maintain its clean water,
Guard its fresh air.

Protect it from chemicals and fungus sprays,
So you can enjoy it for the rest of your days.

For a real perspective on locusts, have a look at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Egg Corp stumbles on

A report by Les White in today's Weekly Times says:
THE Australian Egg Corporation has reneged on an agreement to release consumer research paid for with farmer levies, free range egg producers claim.

The research forms the basis of the AEC’s controversial new proposed standards, which allow "beak trimming" and stocking densities of 20,000 hens a hectare.

The Free Range Farmers Association plans to ask newly-elected Greens MP Adam Bandt to present a petition bearing 3500 signatures to parliament in an attempt to keep standards the same. The Greens have pledged to create a legal definition of "free range", which the major parties have failed to do.

It has already written to new Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig asking him to redirect levies from freerange eggs to free-range associations rather than to the AEC.

The AEC said in June: "Cage production systems offer greater safety to hens from disease, parasites, cannibalism and predator attack than free-range did".

AEC spokeswoman Jacqueline Baptista said the corporation would not comply with the FRFA’s request until it received "the final report on the research’’.

Asked why it had released proposed standards without having received the final report, she said: "We don’t want to sit on our hands".

Ms Baptista said some free-range producers were "very supportive" of the changes in the proposed new standards, but could not name them as opinions had been collected anonymously.

"The data I have is that the free-range producers who have been very vocal represent about 0.075 per cent of the (egg) industry," Ms Baptista said.

The Egg Corp figures are very rubbery because many egg producers cannot be bothered to join the AECL or send them any data - however, there is no doubt that genuine free range producers are a tiny minority. Which demonstrates that even with AECL's current standards, most consumers are not getting what they think they are paying for. The only way buyers in Victoria can be sure that the eggs they buy really are free range is to look for the logo of the Free Range Farmers Association.
We have sent the results of our consumer suvey to the Egg Corporation and to the New Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe Ludwig and advised him that the Egg Corportation plans would mislead consumers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Results of Free Range Consumer Survey

Here's the results of the Free Range Farmers Association consumer survey on 'What Does Free Range Mean' in response to the Australian Egg Corporation's outrageous attempt to introduce a new standard to define 'free range' egg production which would approve highly intensive and unsustainable farming techniques.

Consolidated Consumer Survey statistics What Does Free Range Mean?
July/August 2010
Views on draft 'Free Range' egg production standard presented by
the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd.

Survey conducted by Free Range Farmers Association Inc.

Information was sought from consumers on-line and face to face with customers at Farmers' Markets attended by members of the Free Range Farmers Association Inc. during July and August 2010.

The responses were to the statement:
The Australian Egg Corporation has revealed plans to change 'free range' standards to allow egg farms to beak trim their hens and to increase the maximum farm stocking density to 20,000 chickens per hectare. We believe that the maximum stocking density should remain at 1500 chickens per hectare and that beak trimming should be prohibited in free range flocks.

As sponsor of the on-line survey, FRFA also had the following statement on the survey site:

Free Range Farmers Association Inc. We are a group of free range egg farmers with strict standards - such as a stocking density of just 750 chickens per hectare, a maximum of 1000 birds per shed and de-beaking (or beak trimming) is prohibited.

On-line and paper-based survey results
On-line survey signatories 2396
Paper survey signatories    1141

                           TOTAL 3537
All signatories agreed that the AECL draft standard did not reflect their views of the term 'free range' and believed that the proposal was unacceptable

We do not have precise information about all participants in the survey but the overwhelming majority are regular purchasers of free range eggs. More than 1000 responded to the survey at Farmers' Markets while they were purchasing eggs.

Approx 36 are believed to be involved in the egg industry and about 90 of the signatories in the online survey appeared to be from overseas.

The results of the consumer survey have been sent to the new Federal Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe Ludwig.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Chickens in Choppers

For anyone who hasn't seen the Cows With Guns video produced from the Dana Lyons song, here it is

Monday, September 06, 2010

Enlist an army of chickens to fight the locust plague

There seems to be a level of panic in Victoria about the possibility of a locust plague and farmers are being urged to dump tonnes of insecticides on them - chemicals which are just about guaranteed to get into our food chain.

A far better control method is chickens. Chickens love eating locusts and grasshoppers – so if all the millions of chickens in this State are let out of their cages and sheds they could clean up the problem. As each chicken could eat 100 locusts a day, 6 million chickens could account for 600,000,000 locusts every day.

But unfortunately that wouldn't work because the birds have been de-beaked – in fact even the birds on most so-called 'free range' farms have been de-beaked (or beak trimmed is the term the industry prefers to use) and they are unable to graze properly and pick up things like insects or even eat grass.

So its yet another argument not to beak trim chickens.

Locusts tend to lay their eggs in damp, alkaline soils so ducks could also help to eradicate the problem because both chooks and ducks love to eat locust eggs.

Chickens as a method of locust control is not a new idea.  The BBC had this up on their website in 2006:
Pest control officials in North-West China have resorted to desperate measures to tackle a plague of locusts which is infesting a huge area of grassland.

They have brought in an army of 10,000 chickens - backed by air support from thousands of starlings - to gobble up some of the millions of locusts which have descended on Xinjiang in the Uygur autonomous region.
According to Xinhua newsagency, the elite fowl undergo 60 days training shortly after they hatch to prepare them for battle with the locusts.
Worst infestation
And battle it is, because this year's infestation is said to be the worst in the region for a decade, with a quarter of Xinjiang's grasslands affected.
There were no details given of the chicken training programme.
The newspaper China Youth Daily said the chickens had succeeded in taking on the pests where all else failed.
But the insect-eating chickens are only one prong in the region's assault on the swarms of locusts.
Xinjiang pest control officials are also encouraging starlings to settle in the area by placing nests in the grassland area.
Pesticide alternative
Last month environmentalists in the port city of Tianjin released five million wasps to attack insects which had been damaging crops.
The BBC Correspondent in Beijing, Colin Blane, says it is thought Chinese scientists are being encouraged to find ways of reducing the use of chemical pesticides.
The introduction of chickens and starlings as instruments of pest control is a reverse of the disastrous experiment of the 1950s when the whole nation was urged to scare sparrows away from crops by beating drums for hours on end.
Unable to land, the sparrows died from exhaustion and the crops were then destroyed by a booming insect population.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Fraud at the supermarkets

The Sunday papers are carrying a story about the mislabelling of food (including eggs) in supermarkets. The article says: 'AUSTRALIANS are being duped at the supermarket, with one in 10 products the subject of "food fraud".

In some cases, eggs from caged hens are being sold as free range and fresh fruit and vegetables sprayed with pesticides are selling as organic, according to researchers at the University of Western Australia’s forensic research centre.
Professors John Watling, Cameron Scadding and Garry Lee are leading a project to expose producers who fraudulently label their products, as the cost of food fraud tops an estimated $7 billion a year nationally.'
Of course the Australian Egg Corporation will vigorously deny there is any substitution going on. It always defends the big operators.
But it's clear that unless the Federal Government steps in with some real 'truth in labelling' legislation the problem will continue and will even get worse if the Egg Corportion gets away with its proposal to introduce new misleading standards for 'free range' production.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Raising orphan koalas

Raising baby marsupials is always a challenge, especially when they are very young like the little koala on the left. Constant feed and warmth are essential and it takes many long hours of care - including interrupted nights to achieve a good outcome.
You have to start with a dilute low lactose milk formula delivered into the mouth slowly by syringe or pipette every hour or so. Then build up the formula strength to the required level.
Here's a series of pictures which shows that you can have great results in a wildlife shelter.

How could anyone not think that this little fellow is cute?

And here, he's just about ready to get back into the wild!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Egg wars - the Egg Corporation's 'free range' plans

There is an excellent article on Google News about the Australian Egg Corporation's planned changes to 'free range' standards. Here's the link
Egg Wars - The Australian Egg Corporation changes "Free Range" Rules

Hopefully, once we have a new federal government in place we may actually get someone in Canberra to listen!!!

Getting hens out of cages is a good idea, but producers need to be honest about they are doing and the way they describe their production systems.

The Dalai Lama has now clmed intothe debate with a letter to the Humane Society nternational and the Humane Society of the United States.

The Dalai Lama Condemns Cage Confinement of Egg-Laying Hens

WASHINGTON (Aug. 31, 2010) – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has issued a statement in the wake of the largest egg recall in United States history. In a letter, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate decries the egg industry’s cruel treatment of hens and urges egg buyers to switch to cage-free eggs:

“The abuse we inflict on hens has always been particularly disturbing to me and I have always been particularly concerned toward how these animals are treated in industrial food production. I am troubled to learn about the practice of confining egg laying hens in tiny cages. In these cages, birds cannot engage in their natural behaviours, such as spreading their wings, laying eggs in a nesting area, perching, scratching at the ground, even standing on a solid surface. Each hen has less space to live than the very sheet of paper I have written this letter on. Turning these defenseless animals into egg-producing machines with no consideration for their welfare whatsoever is a degradation of our own humanity. Switching to cage free eggs would reduce the suffering of these animals.”

The Dalai Lama’s statement comes as a major U.S. movement against cruel and inhumane cages on factory egg farms is taking root. Prominent U.S. corporations from Burger King to Safeway are switching to cage-free eggs. Michigan and California have passed laws to phase out the use of cages to confine hens. California has also passed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold statewide be cage-free by 2015. In Ohio, agriculture leaders agreed to a moratorium on the construction of new cage egg facilities.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Equilibrium Farming - What is sustainability?

At the Freeranger Farm we have a totally sustainable approach to the way we operate and we often refer to it as Equilibrium Farming. Here's some info I published on the Bassbush website.

Over millions of years a wide variety of life forms and processes have evolved on the earth. We haven't yet discovered them all and some will inevitably disappear before we know what they are. We certainly don't understand them but we humans have developed an agricultural and industrial system which takes little notice of the balance generated by nature. We are control freaks, determined to develop ever-more complex equipment and processes which ignore our natural environment and try to change it.

We produce farm products which require unsustainably high volumes of fresh water, whilst ignoring the methods which nature developed to maintain biodiversity. Is it any wonder that many people are becoming increasingly concerned about our impact on climate change? We seem to have a great need to build machines which rely on the continuity of resources designed to maintain the economic imperative. Of course there are plenty of politicians (and others) who don't accept the effect we are having. They (like tobacco company executives arguing that there was no link between smoking and lung cancer) insist that global warming is just a cycle and there is nothing we can do about it. Perhaps they are right! But perhaps not. Are we all prepared to risk irreversible damage to our atmosphere, our soils and our waterways? We believe that Equilibrium Farming is the way to go - minimum inputs, reduced costs and simple production methods will ensure that a farm can operate sustainably for generations.

Chemical Farming

Industrialisation has allowed our civilisation to develop artificial farming techniques. We are now able to take almost any landscape, destroy what is there and turn it into what we see as important – if we are too dumb to think about the consequences. The deliberate destruction of forests, grasslands and even swamps is just mind-boggling. But we have done it and we are still doing it. We see fertile areas and systematically remove all vestiges of plant and animal life before ploughing the ground, without any thought for the consequences of destroying the microflora and microfauna in the soil.

It's all done in the name of progress – and creating an agricultural monoculture. We replace native species with exotics in the belief that they will perform 'better' (or at least will put more dollars in our pockets). Monocultures often thrive in the short term. It doesn't make much difference if its wheat, potatoes, grapes, olives or just rye grass and clover, the traditional outputs don't keep pace with population growth, and we chase ways to maximise production. This usually means dumping truckloads (or plane loads) of synthetic fertilisers to boost production. Insecticides and herbicides are spread like confetti to try to stop all the little bugs and things from spoiling our fun. There's no doubt it works and makes farmers and governments heaps of money (for a while). But it all comes crashing down when the reality hits that you can't keep doing this!

Agriculture driven by chemical inputs increases short term productivity and nutritional levels to unprecedented levels but the cost is the destruction of our soils.

Our farming practices mean that throughout the world, we use more water than falls naturally as rainfall.

The area of soils which is productive is gradually reducing every year while the population increases exponentially.

In Australia, we have one of the world’s most difficult agricultural environments – semi-arid in most parts, shallow topsoils, low nutrient levels and high salinity levels in subterranean soils. In the first 200 years of European settlement, Australians reduced the fertility of much of the landscape by inappropriate farming practices, increased soil and water salinity to near catastrophic levels and reduced biodiversity.

The levels of carbon in soils was once measured in thousands of years, but apparently now span only 2 to 3 years – a testament to the decreasing levels of life in soils.

It has been shown that chemical fertilisers harm and kill plant micro-organisms, thus eliminating the possibility of natural nutrient cycling. Combined with the application of pesticides and herbicides in an irrigated monocultural environment, the chemicals are aiding the desertification and salinisation of productive lands.

Erosion effects – the elimination of natural flora (not to mention the microflora) has caused enormous damage to the structure of Australian soils. Together with wholesale tilling, our soils are routinely badly eroded, to the point where a major rain season (orhigh winds in a dry season) may result in catastrophic removal of topsoil. Serious erosion can be readily viewed in any dryland area of Australia – ranging from minor to extreme – and the problem is worsening with all major attempts at redressing the problem being largely ineffective.

Our complex political and economic systems have developed so far that often our balance of payments is in negative territory (importing far more than we export).

A significant proportion of that imbalance is the result of importing chemical fertilisers to feed our naturally 'poor' soils. The fertilisers, while allowing for profitable crops in the short term, are contributing to the acidification and salinisation of our soils. Their use produces excess levels of soluble nutrients in soil - which has two effects, increased nutrient stored in subsoils, and increased nutrient loads in waterways. The former is just a waste, the latter is the cause of untold pollution of waterways in a world with an increasing freshwater deficit.

What's the cost to human health?

While we are feeding an unprecedented number of people, there are still significant shortcomings. Ours may be the only generation in recorded human history to not live longer than our parents – a testament to the falling food values of our diet, overeating and obesity-related illnesses in some parts of the world, and malnutrition, starvation in others. How did we get it so wrong?

The natural process

There are no chemical fertilisers or pesticides or herbicides in nature.

Organic wastes in natural forests fall to the ground where they are consumed by a plethora of micro-organisms. No-one has gone close to calculating how many species exist today, let alone what existed before human intervention, but some estimate them to be in the millions.

In a complex and poorly understood web, these species interact with each other and one organism’s byproduct is another’s food. From the competitive melange that makes up our soils, nutrients and energy are constantly and sustainably returned to so-called higher plants where the process of capturing the sunlight and gases from the atmosphere results in even more life – a perfectly sustainable ecosystem, with increasing biomass. Compare this to our man-made system in which biodiversity and biomass are spiralling ever-downwards. Unfortunately our intervention is growing - the clamour for clearing understorey in our native forests in the name of  'fire control' will lead to even greater decline.

There have been numerous studies of practical farming techniques utilising natural systems and it has been demonstrated that the elimination of chemical fertilisers, reductions in the use of pesticides and herbicides, show little or no loss in productivity. The net result – which should be relished by farmers – is that profitability can go up, not down, by using these natural methods. Unfortunately most will keep doing what they have always done. And eventually go broke!

There are no irrigation channels in the natural Australian landscape. Instead, there are chains of ponds – swamps and wetlands, sometimes covering hundreds of square miles – connected only during floods by intermittent streams. Water is retained in the landscape and does not flow 'unused' to the ocean. Plant and animal forms have adapted to this natural sequence, and thrive in what often appears as a barren and inhospitable landscape. As plant biomass increases, the flow of water is slowed, causing water levels in the swamplands to increase, thus providing more opportunity to grow more plants – and on goes the cycle. The result – increased biomass, and increased biodiversity.

In nature, waste is always re-used locally. Everything is inter or co-dependent, and synergies abound. Plants and animals don't live in isolation, instead they are part of complex, diverse and inter-related communities. Monocultures seldom exist, and by-products are processed then consumed where they fall.

An organism's by-products are exuded in a way to maximise the benefit to the organism. Plants, for example, exude simple sugars from their roots to eliminate their “wastes” - and micro-organisms convert these sugars into water soluble nutrients which are then used by the plant.

Everything is cycled and re-used in an upward spiral – increasing biomass and biodiversity. Nothing goes unused.

We are not as smart. In our industrial, chemical model, we create foods and other products, transport them vast distances to markets, in order to participate in a 'market economy'. Then we deal with our waste as a separate commodity, not part of our production cycle. What a con!

More info on Sustainability, Deep Ecology, Brittle Landscapes and heaps more can be found at

Monday, August 16, 2010

This would alert consumers to false 'free range' claims

Here's something that would help identify the cheating egg producers who charge customers a premium for claiming their eggs are 'free range' when they are from intensively managed flocks often endorsed by the Australian Egg Corporation. At least it would alert consumers as long as 'name and shame' provisions are included in the process.

It was posted a while ago on World Poultry Net - a credible industry forum - but so far the major producers have shown no interest in having their practices under such scrutiny. I wonder why?!!!!!!

A New Zealand researcher has developed a technique to identify the difference between eggs from caged hens and those from free-range and organically-raised hens.

It is believed to be the first time that eggs from different farming systems have been distinguished by using isotope analysis.

The system can have potential within the egg industry to avoid mis-labelling.

Karyne Rogers, of Geological and Nuclear Science's National Isotope Centre in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, compared different brands of off-the-shelf eggs from cage, barn, free range and organic farming regimes.

Using isotope analysis, she found almost all the eggs could be differentiated by relating the carbon and nitrogen found in the egg to the hen's diet.

This was possible as diet directly reflected the type of farming environment where the hens were raised, Dr Rogers said.

Different foods

''Free-range and organically farmed hens normally have access to a wider range of food sources than caged hens, such as insects, vegetation or organic feeds, and this changes the isotope fingerprint of their eggs,'' Dr Rogers said.

The findings, recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, showed isotope analysis was a potentially useful technique for identifying eggs from different farming regimes.

The research was performed on egg yolk, albumen and egg membrane to see which egg components gave the best information about the hen's diet.

Effective verification tool

Dr Rogers said the technique held considerable promise for the egg industry as an effective verification tool to guard against mis-labelling.

''The next step is to seek industry funding to work directly with egg producers to further refine the technique so it can be fully tested and applied in the industry.''

We can't wait. It could be a great tool to weed out the shonky operators who run large, industrial farming operations and de-beak their birds. And of course things will get even worse for consumers if the Egg Corporation manages to get its planned 'free range'standards up and running.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New sheds and new chooks

Here are some of our latest Isa Brown pullets in their new shed. This flock is 280 birds and will help us to keep up with local demand for genuine free range eggs - not the version the Australian Egg Corporation wants you to have!

And this is their shed - but they will only go in there when they want to. They are shut in today because they have only just arrived and we have found that by keeping them in the shed for 24 hours or so, they get to know that is their home. (If you look closely at the picture on the right you can see some of the pullets under the shed - it has no floor so even when they are inside they have access to grass).  From tomorow they will be out grazing and chasing bugs! We won't ever lock them up again. The shed has nest boxes for them to lay their eggs as well as food and water.
As with all our sheds, it is on skids so we can move it around the paddock to ensure the hens always have access to fresh pasture.
This is one of the two new sheds we have bought to increase our flock numbers in the face of insatiable demand for real free range eggs. We still have no intention of chasing the mass market and we will maintain our food miles policy of only delivering within one hour of the farm.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

More proof of nutritional differences with free range eggs

There is now more evidence that free range eggs have a higher nutritional value than factory farmed eggs.  Recent research by the US Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences compared caged bird eggs with those laid by free range flocks  – and it found that that free range chickens eggs are indeed better for you.

Researchers examined how the levels of omega-3 fatty acids and concentrations of vitamins A and E differed in eggs from actively pastured hens able to eat legumes or mixed grasses compared with eggs from hens in cages.

Lead Investigator Heather Karstan said, “Compared to eggs of the commercial hens, eggs from pastured hens eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids,” she said. “Vitamin A concentration was 38 percent higher in the pastured hens’ eggs than in the commercial hens’ eggs.”

The six week study was compared to caged birds which were fed their usual diet of commercial egg mash.

“The chicken has a short digestive tract and can rapidly assimilate dietary nutrients,” said Paul Patterson, Professor of Poultry Science, who was a co-investigator in the project. “Fat-soluble vitamins in the diet are readily transferred to the liver and then the egg yolk. Egg-nutrient levels are responsive to dietary change.

“Other research has demonstrated that all the fat-soluble vitamins, including A and E, and the unsaturated fats, linoleic and linolenic acids, are egg responsive, and that hen diet has a marked influence on the egg concentration.”

Anyone who keeps chickens with full beaks knows how the birds like to peck on pasture. It's a natural way of getting a vitamin boost.Some plants such as Purslane are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and when the chooks eat them the food values are transferred to the eggs. But of course if the hens are de-beaked they can't forage properly and there is little if any nutritional difference between factory farmed cage eggs and factory farmed 'free range' . Chickens need full beaks and quality fresh pasture with a variety of mixed grasses and other vegetation as well as a balanced ration of grains, to gain all their essential vitamins and nutrients.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Nutritional differences between cage and free range eggs

I still get heaps of enquiries about nutritional diferences between real free range eggs and those laid by caged hens. Unfortunately there has been very little research here in Australia, but the Australian Egg Corporation is always quick to claim that the food values are identical between cage and free range.

They ignore evidence such as that produced by Mother Earth News in the US (see a link above).
The AECL may well be right about the eggs labelled as 'free range' which it endorses because they are mostly the same breeds of birds as found on cage farms, they eat the same feed, they are de-beaked so they can't forage properly and they are kept in intensive conditions.

But if the hens are truly free range and are allowed to roam over pasture where they can eat things like worms, spiders and grasshoppers, as well as leafy greenstuff such as grass and purslane, the eggs have been shown to have a higher nutritional value.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Ethical Food

There were some interesting comments on ethical food by Steve Spencer in this week's Weekly Times
Part of his discussion, which related to supermarket changes to pork supplies, is here:

'Our analysis suggests consumer demand is well ahead of supply. By far the greatest impact of this ethical foods trend has been around animal welfare issues.
The egg category has seen strong gains in shares won by free-range and barn-laid eggs. Pork will follow the same path as consumers respond to market offers.
Crucial to maintaining that consumer support, as demand expands, are production systems that are backed with credible, uniform standards that consumers can recognise, understand and trust.'

This demonstrates the clear problem that the egg industry will face if the Australian Egg Corporation implements its new draft standard for 'free range' egg production. AECL will bring the industry into further disrepute if it endorses a scheme which misleads consumers and destroys what little trust they have left.
Because of the actions of the Egg Corporation in promoting 'minimum' standards, consumers already distrust industry claims because they are not backed by credible standards which can be trusted.

The proposed standard has no credibility in the free range industry and responses to consumer surveys demonstrate clearly that buyers of free range eggs don't want the new standard either.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shame on you Australian Egg Corporation

"This is outrageous and should never be allowed. I thought this type of mentality was on it's way out. It's a sad day when this amount of chickens could be termed 'free range'. Shame on you Australian Egg Corporation."

This is just one of the comments by the more than 3000 respondents to our consumer survey following the Egg Corporation's draft standards designed to allow a massive increase in the number of chickens on 'free range' farms.

The AECL wants to approve an increase from 1500 birds per hectare to 20,000.

The Free Range Farmers Association has approached the Federal Minister for Agriculture and the Shadow Minister seeking a commitment to properly define the term 'free range' once a new Government has been elected.

The only response so far has been from the Greens who support a clear national definition and truth in labelling legislation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Frosts cutting production

We've had a few frosty nights and mornings recently and the chooks don't seem to like it. Our egg production has dipped to around 84% in the last few days and feed intake has gone up.
The hens obviously need to eat more to boost their energy levels and keep warm!
We are still able to keep up with most of the demand although we can't take on the new enquries which come in almost every day.
It also means we don't have quite as many eggs as usual to take to our Farmers' Markets so some of the late customers there miss out,
We will have a new flock of pullets arriving in a couple of weeks and they should be in full production by the end of Auust.
Before they arrive I hope to have a couple of new sheds in place too!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Age Epicure shows the reality of 'free range' production

This week The Age in Melbourne published an excellent article in Epicure about the way chickens should be kept on real 'free range' farms. The key question for anyone to ask if they want to know if the birds really are 'free range' is to find out if the hens are de-beaked (or beak trimmed is the industry's preferred term because they think it sounds more acceptable).
There is absolutely no need for hens to be debeaked if they are truly free range - it's only when they are kept in intensive conditions that they become aggressive and attack each other.
The timing of this article was perfect as it reinforces the current fight by genuine free range farmers with the Australian Egg Corporation over its outrageous proposal to redefine standards for stocking rates to allow massive factory farms to call their eggs 'free range'. Part of that new standard also allows de-beaking as a normal practice.
If you buy eggs from any producer who is not a member of the Free Range Farmers Association (or is a certified organic producer) - the hens who laid those eggs have probably been de-beaked.
The Epicure article listed the differing standards of various accreditation bodies and the Free Range Farmers Association Inc and the organic certification bodies are the only organisaisations which prohibit debeaking.
The Australian Egg Corporation's Egg Corp Assured program, the RSPCA and Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd allow de-beaking in their versions of 'free range'.