Monday, December 24, 2012

Keep pressure on the Egg Corp

The Australian Egg Corporation's decision to withdraw its application for a certification trade mark for its proposed Egg Standards Australia quality assurance program demonstrates that it knew the new standard would not be accepted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It represents total victory for free range egg farmers across the country – as well as for consumers.

This is a huge win. If the new standard had been implemented it would have seen a growth in massive highly intensive egg farms with 20,000 hens per hectare becoming industry practice. The current maximum density accepted by the most in the industry and endorsed in the preliminary decision of the ACCC, is 1500 hens per hectare.

But AECL hasn't given up totally. It has started the process of registering a standard trademark for its Egg Standards Australia proposal which would allow it to side-step the ACCC as this type of trademark does not need ACCC approval.

Having conducted a major investigation into the egg industry, the ACCC is well placed to launch prosecutions of egg farms which practice misleading and deceptive conduct. Last week's announcement that Pepe's Ducks was fined $400,000 for claims of 'open range' sent shockwaves through major producers in the egg industry.

The AECL may now wait to see how the new Coles supermarket 'free range' standard of 10,000 hens per hectare (due to be launched in January) is accepted. That may become the industry benchmark unless there is a consumer backlash.

Queensland has been the only state to enforce standards for free range hens with a maximum stocking rate of 1,500 hens per hectare, but it is believed that the Queensland Government has bowed to pressure from the egg industry lobby and is about to change the regulation to allow a stocking density of 10,000 per hectare – in line with the Coles standard.

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