Saturday, March 31, 2012

Liberals in SA help to stop egg consumer con

Liberal MP Michael Pengilly introduced a Bill to the South Australian Parliament this week to limit the stocking density of hens on free range egg farms to 1500 hens per hectare.

If the Bill gets up, and it should unless the Australian Egg Corporation's bullying tactics work, it will be the final nail in the coffin of the AECL plans to launch a new intensive standard for 'free range' production.

Read the Bill at:

Researchers battle over 'free range' behaviour

This article from the Armidale Express points out the misleading nature of research publshed last week by the University of  Sydney into stress levels in chickens:

RESEARCH at the University of New England into the freerange egg production system is taking a closer look at how chickens’ moods are connected to their desire to spend time outdoors.

Professor Geoff Hich from the UNE is leading research into new approaches on how we can assess the welfare of chickens, including measuring their emotional state, and motivational and behavioural tendencies.

Researchers will use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to identify hens that proportionally spend more time either indoors or outdoors.

Physiological and behavioural differences in the birds can then be examined.

Dr Hinch said part of the study involved determining the birds’ emotional welfare by examining their choices and whether they were optimistic or pessimistic.

"If a bird is feeling good about itself and it has to make a choice, it will usually err on the side of an optimistic choice," he said.

"If a bird is feeling bad about itself, it’s more likely to make a pessimistic choice.

"So we set up a situation where birds have to make a choice aud see if they make au optimistic or pessimistic choice." The project has been running for six months and currently includes 50 chickens.

A study released last week by Jeff Downing from the University of Sydney claimed that free-range chickens are not necessarily less stressed than their caged connterparts bnt Dr Hinch said this research was flawed.

The study, funded by the Australian Egg Corporation, measured levels of the stress hormone, corticosterone, in chickens on 12 farms using free range, barn or caged production systems. Dr Downing claims his results found that individual environmental factors are more likely to effect chickens’ stress levels than their production system.

Dr Hinch said the study did not take into account enough measurements of welfare for its findings to be conclusive.

"If the results are based purely on corticosterone measurements, I’m not sure I can take the study as an accurate result," he said.

We agree - the study was designed to achieve the results wanted by AECL.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mad scientists producing synthetic meat - are eggs next?

Scientists have been working on this one for years. Growing meat from stem cells. Stem cells used from the slaughter house floor is what makes this scary. Just thinkwhere Mad Cow Disease started. Diseased meat leftovers being fed to cattle.

Some people argue that itwill save animal lives from the huge numbers that are slaughtered every year for human consumption. Others think it will keep starving nations of the world from dying of hunger. In 2003 the University of Western Australia was growing kidney-sized steaks from pig and lamb stem cells, with funding from NASA.

It takes just two weeks to grow pig stem cells into muscle fibers. Muscles that have never been used or worked out are a gooey mess of flesh and do not contain the fiberous tissue that we are used to eating. The idea is to stretch the tissue to move it back and forth, resembling the use of regular muscles on a live animal, to get the tissue to transform from flub.

Some multi-national restaurant chains are apparently already using this for "meat" in their chicken nuggets. The idea is that you can also add omega-3 and vitamins to the mix.

This lab-meat may arouse consumer opposition, so be on the look out for the big corporations and their "clever wording" usage, to describe it. Synthetic eggs may be next !! Read the labels.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More on Stressed hens from ABC Radio's The World Today

A new study has cast doubt over whether free-range hens are happier and more stress-free than their caged counterparts.
Research funded by the Australian Egg Corporation has looked at the stress hormone levels in eggs produced at a dozen farms.
But the Free Range industry group has criticised the study, saying it is part of a push to change the classification of free range.
Dr Jeff Downing, from the University of Sydney, tested eggs from different farms across New South Wales over 12 weeks.
"What I found is that there was no difference between the different production systems," he said.
"But the interesting thing is there is a great deal of variation between individual farms using any particular production system.
"So it indicates to me that the challenges and the environment the hens are in on a particular farm probably has more influence on the stress levels they experience, rather than the type of production system they are in."
Dr Downing says stress levels were elevated in several situations across all three types of farms.
"This hormone is triggered by neural triggers, so the hen is challenged and the neural triggers are things like fear, anxiety, pain, and they trigger this hormone. So as these challenges increase, then the levels of this hormone increase," he said.
He says his research makes it a little more complicated for consumers to pick eggs at the supermarket.
"As a consumer, and I go and select eggs based on the production system, I don't think that gives me any guarantee that those hens have experienced less stress than those in another production system," he said.
"It's really what's happening on the individual farm that's probably more influential on the stress levels that they experience."
'Poor measure'
However RSPCA scientific officer Melina Tensen says the method used to test whether hens were stressed is flawed.
"Corticosterone is a poor measure of animal welfare. It sort of goes up and down during the day and it really depends on all sorts of things in the bird's environment," she said.
"You could see corticosterone as a level of excitement, either positive or negative, and if it's positive excitement, obviously the bird could be having fun, and if it's negative excitement, then obviously the bird is stressed.
"The overwhelming research looking at the welfare of birds in cages suggests that the hens definitely suffer in a caged environment."
The Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia's president, Phil Westwood, has also cast doubts on the study.
He says the so-called free-range farms visited in Dr Downing's study were in fact not a true classification of free range.
"I don't disagree that probably the farm management has more importance than the actual production type; a well-managed farm is likely to have lower stress levels in the chooks," he said.
"But what this research doesn't show is that almost certainly the free range farms that were selected to take part in this study were actually intensive farms, so they wouldn't be farms that most consumers would regard as actually free range.
"They're running birds of maybe 20,000-30,000 birds per hectare. That is not a free range farm.
Mr Westwood says a free-range farm that meets the model code requirement has 1,500 birds per hectare.
"That allows the birds to display their normal behaviour practices. They can do the things that a chook normally does and they're not de-beaked or beak trimmed," he said.
Mr Westwood says the Egg Corporation is trying to change standards to allow 20,000 birds per hectare to be classified as free range.
Nobody from the Egg Corporation was available to talk to The World Today, however, a spokesman said the research is solid and it is unfortunate some are trying to politicise it.
A University of Sydney statement confirms Dr Downing's research received funding from the Australian Egg Corporation.
But it says he carried out his research independently and the report was reviewed by independent, external referees.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stress in chickens - Industry 'reseachers' say there is no difference

Research funded by the Australian Egg Corporation has found that stress levels in chickens are not determined by production type - and 'free range' hens are just as likely to be stressed as those in cages or barns,
What the researchers don't explain in their report is what were the comparisons between the production facilities they used. Were the so-called 'free range' hens from intensive  systems where the hens were run at high stocking densities and were beak trimmed. Its almost certainly the case that they were, and if so, it's just another example of research designed to produce a pre-determined result.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

WA Labor starts to tackle 'free range' con

The WA Labor opposition has come out strongly in support of toughening labelling regulations for free range eggs.
Have a look at this article in the West Australian newspaper:
Unfortunately the WA Minister for Agriculture has made the rather dumb claim that legislation is already adequate to deal with false labelling. If he really believes that, how come consumers are still being ripped off?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Westernport day trip

The Westernport Catchment Committee had a day out on Westernport yesterday to look at some of the issues which are affecting the coast. Here are a couple of shots.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Egg labelling forum

The decision by NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson to arrange a forum to discuss problems with egg labelling, is a great indication that the Government believes that consumers are being conned

At a forum being held in Sydney today, the NSW Food Authority is hearing from eggs producers, Australian Egg Corporation staff, and retailers. One of the topics on the agenda is ‘Truth in Labelling’.

The Australian Egg Corporation has acknowledged that currently some eggs producers who label their eggs as ‘free range’ are intensive farms with outdoor stocking densities of 40,000 hens per hectare.

Its answer to that problem is to introduce a new standard which allows a stocking density of up to 20,000 birds per hectare when the current level accepted by free range farmers across Australia is a maximum stocking rate of 1500 birds per hectare.

Clearly, the Australian Egg Corporation has turned its back on free range farmers despite its claims to represent all industry sectors.

The Free Range Egg & Poultry Association of Australia, will again urge the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Joe Ludwig, to amend funding arrangements for the Egg Corporation to allow levy monies paid by free range producers to be used for the promotion of free range eggs. Currently all monies raised by levies on replacement chicks is handed over to the Australian Egg Corporation.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Plan hatched to crack row over egg labelling

The NSW state government has weighed into the debate on the inconsistent definition of free range eggs and has convened a meeting of egg producers tomorrow in an attempt to resolve the long-running dispute over how eggs should be labelled.

It comes as theAustralian Competition and Consumer Commission launched Federal Court action against a South Australian producer who was selling her eggs as free range, despite most of the eggs being laid by caged hens.

The Australian Egg Corporation, which represents most commercial egg producers, has angered free-range producers and animal welfare groups with its proposed standard to allow a free-range egg farm to run 20,000 chickens per hectare.

The present code, which is not legally enforceable, allows 1500 chickens per hectare.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Food Authority, which organised the meeting at the request of the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, said it had concerns about "truth in labelling" and inconsistent terms.

A new calf

We have a new calf on the Freeranger Eggsfarm, born yesterday. A great little black heifer, so now I can get back into sharing the milk from our house cow, Pansy – as she produces way too much milk for one calf!

We are looking forward to more cream, butter and cheese.

Friday, March 09, 2012

ACCC takes court action against SA egg supplier

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Ms Rosemary Bruhn, who trades as Rosie's Free Range Eggs.

The ACCC alleges that from March 2007 to October 2010, Ms Bruhn represented that eggs she supplied to business customers including 117 customers in South Australia such as retail outlets, bakeries, cafes and restaurants, were free range eggs when a substantial proportion of the eggs were not free range but cage eggs.

The ACCC says that such conduct contravened section 55 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (now known as the Competition and Consumer Act 2010).

The ACCC is seeking:

  • a declaration that Ms Bruhn contravened the Trade Practices Act
  • an injunction in relation to engaging in similar conduct in the future
  • an order for a corrective notice
  • an order for Ms Bruhn to write to affected customers advising them of the outcome of the proceedings
  • an order for Ms Bruhn to attend compliance training
  • penalties, and
  • costs.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Egg producers peck away at meaning of free range


Waikato Times

Large-scale egg producers running flocks more than five times the size of small farmers believe consumers can decide whether their free-range credentials are up to scratch.

A prominent Pukekohe egg farmer fears well-meaning shoppers will be faced with free-range eggs produced under a raft of standards, despite new welfare rules due this year.

Free-range egg company FRENZ director Rob Darby says as much as two-thirds of eggs sold as free-range are from large-scale producers, because of holes in the welfare code.

A drawn-out review of the code has centred on cage production, and Mr Darby says the draft rules will allow big producers to keep stretching the "free-range" label for profit.

But major producers running flocks of up to 8000 birds say the standards FRENZ wants are not viable, and would drive free-range farmers to the wall.

Egg Producers Federation executive director Michael Brooks said the industry-funded federation had endorsed the 2500-hens-per-hectare stocking densities being proposed.

He said the industry was split over the definition of "free-range" but the new code would be the only independent definition driven solely by hen welfare imperatives, and finally give both egg farmers and consumers some certainty around "free-range" egg labelling.

Mr Brooks said the federation had heard allegations that free-range labelling was misused: "Tell us the name of the producers and we'll go to the Commerce Commission on it."

"While some smaller free-range farmers disagreed with the birds-per-hectare number others saw it as positive as getting a line in the sand – a figure that put a limit and gave it a status not given under the current code," he said. "It was a case of getting a balance."

Primary Industries Minister David Carter is expected to issue the new code in mid-year.

Dr John Hellstrom is chairman of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (Nawac), which has spent two years drafting minimum standards. He says defining the term "free-range" is not its job and he is satisfied the rules protect laying hens' welfare.

"As far as free-range is concerned, the main points of contention were hen stocking densities, and also the protection of the term," Dr Hellstrom said. "One of the things we've been grappling with is ... we're trying to develop welfare standards. We're not an organisation to protect marketing terms: that is outside the legislation's brief and our terms of reference. What we've decided to do is not refer to free-range at all in the draft code, but to instead talk about standards for birds that are farmed outdoors. That way we avoid any confusion. It's a marketing term, it's not a welfare term."

Woodland brand spokesperson Hamish Sutherland said commercial realities had to be weighed to allow the industry to meet rising consumer demand for free-range eggs. "If the stocking densities get too low you would end up having the entire South island covered in chooks. There does have to be some commercial balance," he said.

Dr Hellstrom said stocking densities varied in New Zealand and overseas, and the draft code matched European standards: "Australia, for example, is looking at more than 10,000 birds per hectare, which is hardly free-range."

Mr Darby wanted densities of 1000 hens/hectare entrenched in the new code. "They are suggesting in that code something more than three times that. That is not sustainable and it will cause huge problems. But it will satisfy the big guys because they want 30,000 birds in a shed and they don't want to be restricted."

Mr Brooks said large shed sizes allowed automated egg collection, which significantly reduced labour costs, a factor in ensuring certainty of supply for major supermarkets.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Equilibrium Farming

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 (or high 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

Thursday, March 01, 2012

New website to help people find local food

A new website  has been set up at to help buyers find their food locally.
This fits well with our food miles policy.