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.

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