Friday, December 27, 2013

2014 International Year of Family Farming

We hope that 2014 will demonstrate to our politicions in Canberra and all State parliaments that family farms are a greater benefit to the country and the community than the corporate giants which get all the attention.
The International Year of Family Farming aims to stimulate policies for the sustainable development of family farms, communal units, and cooperatives.
When the United Nations declared 2014 as the Year of Family Farming, it announced that family farms were important for sustainable food production to achieve food security. The Year focuses on solutions to combat poverty and hunger.
We will do everything we can to get our politicians to recognise this and we will host a number of events throughout the year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Victorian Produce Field Guide now just $25

The Field Guide to Victorian Produce will make a great Christmas present - especially as the price has now been cut from $40 to $25.

The Guide makes it easy for anyone to access quality produce from their food region, or to enjoy regional food tourism by going direct to the source. The Guide also connects growers to new markets by providing a platform for them to tell their story and sell their goods. In the name of localism and authenticity this book celebrates quality regional produce, farming and a healthy life - just like us at Freeranger Eggs.

Full of great stories, recommendations by locals, beautiful illustrations, useful maps and two indexes the Guide is a valuable addition to the Victorian food sector – a much needed resource and a practical tool.

It can be ordered via the products page of the Freeranger website or you can pick it up at one of the Farmers' Markets we attend.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hen welfare is a complex issue - but genuine free range comes out on top

Professor Christine Nicol of Bristol University in the UK has written about the media misrepresentation of some of her work on hen welfare issues. Some news outlets here in Australia were guilty of publishing misleading information.

She says there has been a good deal of media coverage about the relative merits of enriched cage and free-range egg production.

'Some,' she says 'reached the simple conclusion that enriched cages are better for hen welfare than free range. Others have argued the opposite'.

She argues that in a comprehensive study comparing four different housing systems, hens in enriched cages had lower mortality and fewer problems relating to disease, pecking injuries and skeletal health than hens in any other system. However, in terms of bird welfare, enriched cage can never provide birds with the full freedom to perform behaviours that matter to them.

'In this respect the free-range system has the edge. More so than any alternative, the free-range system has the potential to meet both the physical and the behavioural needs of the birds', Professor Nicol says.

Full details of the UK report here:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Free range court battles - ACCC acts

At last the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken action against a couple of big egg producers who claim that the eggs they sell are 'free range'. The industry knows that this con has been going on for years, but it became big business - worth millions - once some of the smart operators interpreted a clause in the Appendix to the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry as allowing an unlimited stocking density on free range farms.
The Code actually limits outdoor stocking densities to 1500 hens per hectare - but the guys chasing dollars chose to interpret a clause relating to meat birds as also applying to egg laying hens. They were dreaming, but (for them) it made sense for their bottom lines. The difference of course is that stocking density for meat birds is not as relevant as they are sent off to the abattoir when they are five or six weeks old so they hardly have any time out of the sheds in which they were raised.
Keep it up ACCC !!!!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Pakenham Gazette - On the Land

The Freeranger Eggs farm featured in this week's Pakenham Gazette in the On the Land section. This sort of article does us far more good than features in metropolitan papers - or on radio and tv - because we only sell locally.
We don't travel for hours doing the rounds of city markets as do many many of our colleagues in the egg industry.
They make a mockery of the pretence that they are selling 'local' food. I suppose they can always claim that it's local somewhere!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Biosecurity problems led to avian influenza outbreaks

Investigations into the avian influenza outbreaks near Young in New South Wales appear to confirm that the biosecurity practices on the two farms were not up to scratch – even though they were said to be 'state of the art' facilities.

It seemed odd that the initial outbreak was able to spread so quickly to cage hens on a farm which also had birds with 'access' to the outdoors – and then to a separate cage farm.

The likely cause has now been revealed by the Department of Primary Industries in NSW.

'The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H7N2 outbreak near Young was first detected in a free range and cage layer chicken farm near Young. The free range birds had potential exposure to waterbirds and a dam is located close to the free range poultry enterprise. Ducks have been reported on the property. Mortalities were first seen in the free range birds before clinical signs were seen in the caged birds, suggesting free range layers were infected before the cage layers. Avian influenza viruses are known to circulate in migratory and waterbirds in Australia. This incident appears to be a point source introduction by a wild bird, followed by adaptation and selection of a virus with high pathogenicity to chickens. A second infected property was detected and confirmed to be HPAI H7N2. This is a caged layer farm. Re-use of cardboard egg cartons is the most likely route of transmission from the first infected property to the second infected property and between enterprises on the first infected property.

The Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) is a formal, legally binding agreement between Animal Health Australia, the Australian government, all state and territory governments, and currently fourteen livestock industry signatories (‘parties’). The EADRA covers the management and funding of responses to emergency animal disease (EAD) incidents. HPAI H7N2 is a category 2 disease, which means that government covers 80% of the costs and industry covers 20% of the costs. The industry costs are determined in relation to industries' gross value of production. Under EADRA, each industry party must take reasonable steps to ensure that its industry meets the cost sharing obligations of that industry. The Commonwealth may initially meet an industry’s cost sharing obligations, and that industry will then repay the Commonwealth within a reasonable time period.'

Statements by politicians and others about the outbreaks were factually incorrect. A comparative analysis on the number of avian influenza outbreaks in Australia between 1976 and 2013 demonstrates that most avian influenza outbreaks were in intensive housing systems. The last two outbreaks in 2012 and 2013 were in very large free range flocks. The risks of avian influenza in free range should be discussed in the context of the size of the flock and the stocking density. 
The industry needs to learn from this – for example, dams should not be located anywhere near the range area to limit the potential for wild duck access. Most of us in the free range industry have been well aware of this issue. There is also a problem with operating different production facilities on the same property. Establishing Barn, Cage and intensive Free Range sheds in close proximity to each other, with staff moving freely between the different systems, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Food Safety and Quality Assurance program for all free range egg farms in Australia

There is massive demand amongst free range egg farmers for help with preparing the documentation needed to comply with the increasing complexity of State and Federal regulations. Because there now is no active association representing the free range industry here in Victoria, we have been getting emails and phone calls from operators of free range farms asking how they can set up food safety and quality assurance programs on their farms.
We also get quite a few requests from interstate.
The simplest way, as we always tell them, is to adapt a generic program which has already been developed.
We have a program on the Freeranger website which is readily available on the Freeranger Club page and full info is available on the Food Safety page of our site. If anyone needs help adapting the program, please contact an egg industry consultant - or we can help. All you have to do is ask.

A heap of information is also available on the DEPI website and every registered egg producer has received a copy of the booklet on food safety. The document includes information to assist in meeting the requirements of the standard and manage the food safety hazards associated with egg production.

Producers must comply with the obligations set out in the standard if they have 50 birds or more. If you don't have a recognised QA program in place, you are required to follow a food safety management statement.The food safety management statement is evidence that you have appropriate systems in place and the statement must be produced if you are asked to do so.

A food safety management statement can be a recognised quality assurance program or a generic food safety management statement approved by the Secretary of the DEPI.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Egg cartel case looming?

In a keynote address to an Economics Conference in Sydney, the Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims argued that Australia should embrace the root and branch review of competition policy and law and forshadowed major moves against egg producers who have been involved in collusion.

Here's a few quotes from his address: “Most of our consumer issues have an important competition dimension. For example, our work on credence claims, dealing with false claims as to where (Australia, King Island) or how (free range, or by a skilled artisan) a good is made is for two reasons. First, the consumer is not getting what they paid for; second, and often more important, genuine producers are losing out to those making the false claims.

Consider an industry with high entry barriers and three competitors who collude to raise prices. Suppose the demand curve for the goods is or is near vertical. In this case there may be no efficiency loss (at least in a static sense), just a transfer of wealth from the consumers to producers.

How is the welfare loss from this cartel to be compared to inappropriate monopoly utility pricing, or misleading consumers about their consumer guarantee rights?

With our collusion cases I expect more will be purely local cases, but international cases must always also be a priority, particularly when Australians, Australian businesses, and businesses in Australia suffer significant harm.

I expect to be able to announce the commencement of another domestic cartel case before the end of the year.”

Let's hope it gets rolling!!
Details of his address here:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Details needed about the Avian Influenza outbreak

We have sent a request off to DAFF, the Federal Government Department  of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, asking about the outcome of the recent avian flu problems in NSW.
Egg farmers are keen to understand how the outbreak of Avian Influenza originated at Young. Has evidence been found on how it started? Were ducks involved and did the farm have a dam which could be accessed by the chickens? How was it spread throughout the original farm as we understand this was heralded as 'a state of the art' facility. Even more worrying is the question about how did it spread to a second farm - or was that a totally unrelated incident?
All eggs farmers want to ensure that our biosecurity systems are as effective as possible so it is necessary to know what went wrong in these two incidents.
We understand that all egg producers may be required to pay a levy as an Emergency Animal Disease Response to refund government costs. When is this levy likely to be imposed?

Vaccine against Bird Flu

The U.S Food & Drug Administration has approved the first vaccine for the prevention of H5N1 avian influenza. The vaccine, is for use in people 18 years of age and older who are at increased risk of exposure to the H5N1 influenza virus.
Avian influenza A viruses generally do not infect people, however H5N1 has caused serious illness and death mostly among people who have been in close contact with infected poultry. When people do become infected with H5N1, about 60 percent die, according to the World Health Organization. H5N1 has pandemic potential because it continues to infect wild birds with occasional outbreaks of influenza disease in poultry populations, and most humans have no immunity to it.

A third person has died in Indonesia this year after contracting bird flu, and 12 have died in Cambodia.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Are egg replacers all they seem?

An article in The Wall Street Journal extolling the virtues of Hampton Creek Foods egg replacers has been de-bunked by Terence O'Keefe in a blog published today. He says that the article was not written from a food perspective but was the work of a technology reporter. "This is common for the news items appearing about Hampton Creek Foods products, it isn’t the reporters on the food beat writing them. Just as I am not looking for reviews of the latest "smart" gadget in the food section of the paper, I am also not looking for culinary advice on the tech page", O'Keefe said.

Here's a link to the blog by Terence O'Keefe:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tasmania releases new draft egg safety regulations

The Tasmanian Government today released draft egg regulations for public comment. They appear to  be a very sensible match of consumer protection measures while limiting the impact on backyarders.

The draft regulations (Primary Produce (Egg) Safety Regulations 2013) are designed to enable compliance with a national food safety standard that must be applied by all States and Territories.

Mr Klumpp, General Manager Biosecurity and Product Integrity with the Department of Primary Industries, said a new egg standard in the national Food Standards Code, developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, had a requirement for egg stamping to be introduced in all States and Territories as part of improving food safety standards in the egg production industry.

“Acknowledging this is a national requirement that Tasmania must comply with, the draft regulations for our State have been developed to take on concerns and issues from Tasmania’s large and small egg producers,” Mr Klumpp said.

“For example, although stamping of eggs to ensure traceability of sold products is required, we have identified a range of measures to enable compliance whilst minimising impacts on our smaller egg producers.”

Mr Klumpp said the measures Tasmania has identified to address concerns raised by some egg producers included:

· Producers who had fewer than 20 egg producing birds and did not sell eggs would not be required to stamp their product at all.

· Producers with fewer than 20 egg producing birds and intend selling their product would be provided with a free hand held stamp by the Department when they registered their details. This would enable eggs to simply be hand stamped to ensure traceability requirements are met. Producers in this category must still comply with the Food Standards Code, however, do not need to be accredited by DPIPWE.

· Producers with more than 20 egg producing birds will be required to be accredited by DPIPWE and have an audited and approved food safety program in place. However, this has been a requirement in Tasmania since commencement of the Egg Industry Act 2002. All eggs produced in this category are also required to be stamped.

“This national egg standard was developed in response to the level of egg-related illnesses occurring in Australia each year – estimated at more than 12,000 cases and costing $44 million.

“Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) determined that having commercial eggs stamped with the producers unique identifying mark would enable them to be quickly traced in the case of food safety problems.

“FSANZ ascertained that in the event of egg-related foodborne illness, stamped eggs could be more easily traced to the producer, enabling the cause of any contamination to be addressed quickly, preventing further potentially contaminated eggs entering the market and averting wide product recalls.”

Mr Klump said written submissions on the draft regulations could be made until 10 January 2014.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Egg stamping starts to roll out in Victoria

At last the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries has got around to issuing stamping codes to egg farms. We have just received our code at Freeranger Eggs. The Government chose to delay the introduction of compulsory stamping of individual eggs with a farm identification code until November next year - to give the industry time to adjust! But we are happy to start stamping long before that. The only reason we haven't begun already is that we couldn't get a code from them to put on our eggs.
Identifying each egg should help to control egg substitution but there are a couple of problems. Firstly, backyarders with 50 hens or less are exempt - so that that means Victorian consumers are being put at risk by buying something like a million eggs a year which cannot be traced. It is unfair to impose regulations on just some sellers. The same standards should be applied to anyone selling eggs (give them away by all means but all egg sellers should have to meet the same regulations).
Secondly, it seems that eggs can be stamped on the grading floor. That defeats the object of stamping to identify the farm on which the eggs are laid. Staff at the grading floor can use any stamp they like so unless the eggs are stamped on farm before they are sent to a grading floor, there can be no guarantee that the eggs are from the farm identified by the code.

Here's a link to an article in Tassie about the nonsense which has been generated there by people who don't care about food safety:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A comparision of egg production costs

Research has been published by the International Egg Commission, dealing with production costs in various egg production systems around the world.

Peter van Horne, an economist and economic analyst with the IEC said that the combination of high feed prices, legislation and especially the conventional cage ban in Europe has put the production costs of eggs at an all-time high. Costs differ per country, but enriched cages and aviary systems have significantly higher costs. A market bonus is necessary to compensate.

The conclusion is that enriched cages produce eggs at the lowest costs. Production costs in aviaries are higher compared to enriched cages (a cost increase of 22% compared with the old conventional cages). It says this means that a higher price must be achieved to keep the income for poultry farmers at a consistent level. Other alternative housing systems, like free range and organic, have higher production costs than enriched cages and aviaries. Eggs produced in these systems need an even higher bonus from the market to compensate the farmer for the additional costs.

I wonder how much that research cost!!!
More details here:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Poultry scientist says her comments on hen welfare were 'misconstrued'

Poultry scientist Professor Christine Nicol from Bristol University sparked widespread controversy in the UK and overseas when a speech she made resulted in newspaper reports claiming that cage hens enjoyed better welfare than free range birds.

She said her speech had been misconstrued. Professor Nicol said that she agreed to appear on a panel of scientists explaining some of the more complex issues about farm size. During an hour-long briefing she said she mentioned that birds on very large farms could have rather good welfare outcomes on some measures. But, she said she could not prevent headlines like 'Cage hens are happier than free range' in the Daily Telegraph and 'Organic isn't better than factory farmed' in the Daily Mail. Even the BBC reported that, 'Welfare standards are on average higher in laying hens kept in cages than in free range flocks, according to a leading veterinary expert.'

Professor Nicol is well known in the poultry industry. Her team at Bristol has conducted research studies on laying birds, including current trials on beak trimming.

Her speech, at an event about the merits of large scale farming organised by the Science Media Centre, came just over a week after Elwyn Griffiths, chairman of the British Egg Products Association (BEPA), stood up at the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference to say that intensive egg production offered the highest level of hen welfare.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sorghum v Corn in poultry feed may lead to more colouring additives

Scott Beyer, PhD, a researcher at Kansas State University in the US has found that grain sorghum varieties compare favourably to corn in low-cost feed formulations. Old varieties of grain sorghum contained relatively high amounts of the anti-nutritional compound, tannin. The presence of tannin in poultry feeds is known to suppress growth and performance of all types of poultry. Tannins bind to proteins and render them less available for metabolism.

Over decades of research, sorghum varieties that contained various levels of tannin were used to compile tables and other references for the feeding value of sorghum compared to corn. Many nutritionists continue to think of it as a lesser grain although new varieties have been introduced with high relative nutrient values. Some varieties of grain sorghum containing significant quantities of tannin are still around but varieties are grown for animal feed that are 99 percent free of tannin.

The nutrient profile of sorghum is complementary to protein sources typically used in poultry rations anywhere in the world, and is very similar to corn. Amino acid digestibility compares favourably with corn. The fat content of grain sorghum and the energy value for poultry is slightly lower when compared to corn. However, this difference can be balanced in rations with other sources of energy.

The big drawback with replacing corn with sorghum is that it contains smaller quantities of yellow xanthophylls required for egg yolk pigmentation – which means that even more egg farmers will resort to adding colouring additives to enhance yolk colour.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tassie Farmers & Graziers reckon that exemptions for backyard egg sellers are unfair

With food health and hygiene, it's not appropriate to have one law for some and another law for others, according to the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association.
"We're told the recent changes to egg labeling regulations reflect an assessed risk of food contamination from poor handling and other factors. If this is a real health risk, you cannot exempt backyard and small producers from being responsible for what they sell," Association chief executive Jan Davis said.
Ms Davis was commenting on a move by the Tasmanian Greens to exempt people with fewer than 50 hens from new regulations that come into force there on 26 November 2013.
These regulations will require any eggs sold in Tasmania to be stamped with identifying information.
"The rationale is that, if there is a problem, we have to be able to isolate the producer responsible," Ms Davis said.
"If you exempt a large segment of the industry that supplies eggs, even if it is a backyard industry, you destroy the integrity of the risk assessment system. Of particular concern is that, in many cases, this smaller segment is actually the greatest source of potential risk.
"Therefore it has to be all in or none in. Otherwise it's a clear case of discrimination.
"This is the sort of community division that arises when governments do not do their homework and do not consult with the appropriate people involved in the industry before they decide to act. I have already said that these regulations are typical of the nanny state approach common to governments in Australia.
"If these regulations are to be introduced, they must be imposed on all those who supply the market, not just the bigger players. A salmonella outbreak is not excusable simply because it derives from a small producer.
"If there is a problem with the administration of the regulations or the cost to smaller producers, then let's deal with that as a separate issue.
"What's good for the goose has to be good for the gander."
At Freeranger Eggs, we agree with those sentiments. If backyard producers squeal at the imaginary cost of stamping eggs, they can talk to the Government. In NSW the Government there undertook to provide hand held stampers to small producers.

Breakthrough with bird flu vaccine?

Researchers in Australia may have come up with a vaccine which could halt the transmission of bird flu in humans.
The New England Journal of Medicine has published a report on the findings of trials.
Details here:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

National Day of Climate Action

At Freeranger Eggs we operate the farm on sustainable principles and we have processes in place to minimise our environmental footprint. Check out our website to see some of the steps we have taken over the years. If you agree that there is a need for more action on climate change - join us the The Glade in Inverloch next Sunday (November 17). We will be there at the Inverloch Farmers' Market and at 11.30 we will also participate in a Climate Action Picnic as part of Get Up's National Day of Climate Action.
If you can't get to Inverloch, go along to one of the other events supporting the national day of action.
As well helping to send a message to Canberra, at Inverloch you will be able to enjoy our full range of eggs - from our Megga's right down to the tiny pullets eggs which are only available when a new flock starts to lay.
The strange and violent weather patterns being experience around the world may not be totally a result of the impact of humans - but do we dare to ignore the possibility?
Event at The Glade, Inverloch 11.30 next Sunday.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Join the Freeranger Club

We have now launched the Freeranger Club for people thinking about starting a free range egg farm. We encourage you all to join! For a one-off subscription of just $40 (no ongoing fees) you will receive a copy of our eBook on setting up a free range farm, be booked in to attend one of our workshops at Grantville (the next one is on Sunday November 24) and get password-protected access to the Freeranger Club and downloads page on the Freeranger Eggs website. We will keep this page updated with industry happenings here and overseas and info which is of value to anyone who is in (or wants to be) in the free range egg industry. If you can't make it to the next workshop, we can book you into any subsequent workshop - the following one is scheduled for May 2014. Details are on our website:

Friday, November 08, 2013

Egg stamping may not enhance food safety - but it should 'stamp out' egg substitution

Stamping eggs with a farm identification code is part of a national food safety scheme - but it's being implemented differently in each State. Tasmania is going through problems right now with backyarders and shopkeepers squealing that they should be exempt from any regulations - even though they sell eggs to an unsuspecting public. In Victoria, the State Government has delayed the compulsory introduction of egg stamping until November next year - so the industry has time to 'adjust'.
The Government here also says it will exempt producers with less than 50 hens from the new requirements. Makes the new regulations pretty pointless. A few years ago, some research indicated that well over a million eggs (and probably more like 2 million) were sold in Australia each year by backyard operators who had no understanding of food safety issues and standards.
Some producers think that the whole concept of egg stamping  is a farce and will do nothing to improve food safety or traceability.
I agree that in the case of tracing the origin of a food-borne illness as a result of eating dodgy eggs, stamping probably won't help. The egg shells on which the stamp appears will have been discarded days previously (especially in the case of restaurants and cafes where most of these problems occur).
But egg stamping will help to solve the egg substitution rort which has been rife for years but probably first came to general notice in Victoria in 2007. There was a very high profile case when a company was fined heaps for labelling eggs as organic when they were from non-organic farms.
In 2012, a NSW barn egg farm was fined for packaging its eggs as free range and a South Australian egg seller was fined for putting cage eggs in free range cartons. In the same year an inspection process in Victoria revealed that a farm was packing and selling eggs from dubious sources interstate and labelling them as free range eggs produced on that Victorian farm. At one stage, more than 70% of the eggs it sold were trucked in – so the business is just a middle-man egg merchant and the farm here was simply window-dressing.
If all eggs are stamped with a unique number which shows the farm on which they were laid, egg substitution will hopefully become a thing of the past.
Consumers may still have to contend with labels which can be misleading, with pictures of hens frolicking on green pasture when the reality is far different.
Accreditation means different things to different people. Consumers rightly expect it to convey a message of credibility about a particular product, but to many businesses it's simply a marketing tool designed to allow them to make claims which increase their profits.
A logo can be a valuable asset if it is trusted by consumers. But it's value is destroyed if it is shown to be meaningless.
Sadly, it has been shown that accreditation bodies often ignore their own standards just to keep members on their books. It's no wonder that consumers don't trust labels – or logos.
As an Environmantal Auditor and a former egg industry auditor, I have seen most of the accreditation systems operating in Australia and while most address particular issues (perhaps food safety or animal welfare) none of them puts it all together in one package. Some came close but then failed when they didn't enforce their own standards. What it means is that accreditation systems are seldom worth the paper they are written on.

Do city Farmers' Markets save Food Miles?

Food transported many miles burns up fossil fuel and contributes to global warming. “Food miles” - the total distance in miles the food item is transported from field to plate - has become accepted as a convenient indicator of sustainability. It has led to a general movement towards local production and local consumption.
Since the 1980's, the annual amount of food moved by heavy goods vehicles has increased by 23 percent with the average distance for each trip also up by 50 percent.
We need to get back to basics and look for local food. The rise in food miles has led to increases in the environmental, social and economic burdens associated with transport. These include carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution, congestion, accidents and noise.
Buying local food is clearly the way to go and Farmers' Markets seem to be springing up everywhere. But is the food sold there really local?
Many stallholders travel for four or five hours to city markets which have become big businesses. Some leave their base on a Friday with enough 'stuff' to sell at three or four markets over a weekend. That can hardly be described as 'local' and it also means that produce which should be kept cool may be outside of any form of temperature control for 48 hours before it is finally sold.
At Freeranger Eggs we have a farm policy which limits us to within one hour of the farm – so we don't do any city markets. The closest we get to Melbourne is The Old Cheese Factory at Berwick (tomorrow) and the McKinnon Farmers' Market on the first Saturday every month.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Ecoeggs wins the Shonkiest of the Shonkies Award


The people have spoken, and the results are in. The CHOICE Shonky Award -  the Shonkiest of the Shonkys for 2013 has been won by Ecoeggs. It won in a landslide victory, with 919 votes

There are plenty of other egg producers out there (we can't call them farmers) who deserve this too. Maybe next year!

Please don't take any notice of logos or accreditation claims - they are as load of cr.p!! 

Tassie egg rules back-down

It looks like Tasmania's Labor Government will back down on egg laws due to come into force later this month. There was a big public backlash from backyarders and some shopkeepers who didn't like the idea of stamping eggs and having to follow food safety procedures.
Wouldn't have anything to do with the state election looming next March - which the Libs are expected to win???
Details in the Hobart Mercury:

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Egg stamping and Food Safety Regulations

The recent public fuss in Tasmania about compliance with national standards for egg production is really quite mindless.

There has been the CWA shrieking that it sells 100 dozen eggs a week at one of its stores (using second hand cartons) and why shouldn't it be allowed to keep doing this. Backyarders who sell surplus eggs from their homes or on roadside stalls say they shouldn't be forced to comply with food safety and identification regulations.

What it means of course is that they don't want to comply with the same food safety conditions that all genuine egg farmers are required to meet. How can they think that is fair?

Jan Davis the CEO of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has no problem with enforcing reasonable food safety standards – for eggs or for anything else. She remains to be convinced that stamping eggs, as is required under the new national standard, is a reasonable response to the level of risk to consumers from contaminated eggs. “But” as she says “that is the national standard, so we have to comply”.

The clamour from some small producers and people supplying market stalls to be exempt from these new regulations is not logical. If the health risks posed by potentially contaminated eggs are such that regulation is deemed to be necessary; then that risk is the same for all eggs, and the same regulations should apply to all egg producers. If some eggs can be exempt, then the regulations are really not necessary for any eggs.

Egg substitution is a significant problem and the stamping of eggs with a farm identification code will help to eliminate that. Many of the eggs sold at markets and roadside stalls are not the produce of the person selling them. They can be bought from dubious sources and passed-off as 'free range'.

Egg producers need a level playing field – otherwise the competition is unfair. Why should some egg sellers be allowed to get away with not following food safety procedures, using second hand cartons, not labelling their cartons and not stamping their eggs to show the origin of the product?

If a shop selling 100 dozen eggs a week is exempt from these regulations, (even if it is a CWA shop) there is no point in introducing the standards at all.

People with chooks who want to give away surplus eggs to neighbours and friends don't need to comply with the standards - but everyone who sells eggs should be required to follow the same processes and procedures as the rest of us.

The stamping of eggs need not involve significant costs. For small producers, hand stampers are readily available. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Free Range doesn't encourage avian influenza

Comments by Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce that more free range eggs farms will lead to an increase in the incidence of avian influenze are a result of industry hype from Corporate egg producers who want to kill off the genuine free range sector.

The industry had hoped that he would have some empathy for family farms - but he has continued down the same track as his predecessors in supporting big business.

His comments were echoed by industry vet Dr Peter Scott and by Bede Burke, chair of the NSW Farmers Association Egg Group. But just a couple of years ago, Mr Burke agreed with us that intensive 'free range' was  not in the interests of the industry - or chickens.

He is on record as saying that the Coles' drive for more free range eggs was an animal welfare disater in the making.

Mr Burke told the Tamworth City Times in December 2010 that 'profitability on free range farms was being driven down and they would become intensive open-air factories'. He said it was already happening as Coles demanded more  eggs from suppliers.

"It looks all nice and populist for the consumer, but in reality it is encouraging cowboy operations. Coles demand for free range eggs is encouraging Mickey Mouse operations run with too many birds in bad facilities."

That was Bede Burke's stated view then. Recent events have proved he was right. Wonder what happened to get him to sing a different song now?

Anyway, Here's an interview on ABC Radio Country Hour today:

Friday, November 01, 2013

Australian Egg Corp - 'A Mob of Crooks'

Yesterday the Labor South Australian Government defeated the Liberals Food (Labelling of Free Range Eggs) (No 2) Amendment Bill in the Lower House by just four votes. This was a Truth in Labelling bill which had passed the Upper House with the support of the Greens and Liberals and would have given teeth to the egg labelling issue in that state.
Michael Pengilly, the Liberal Member for Finniss moved the Bill. Here are some of his comments which might give the Australian Egg Corporation and corporate egg producers pause for thought - especially as there is an election looming in SA and the Libs may win Government.
“Quite simply, if the government through the Deputy Premier thinks that standing up and puffing and blowing about some so-called voluntary code is going to fix the issues with free-range egg production, he is having a lend of himself completely. It will not fix it because the Australian Egg Corporation, as far as I am concerned, is nothing much short of a mob of crooks. I have said that before and I will say it again. The whole system is geared towards the huge caged egg producers, and they have never been the issue with genuine free-range egg producers.
The minister in another place really does not understand the issue. Ministers come and go, as do members of parliament; however, I am concerned that free-range egg producers will get ridden over roughshod and that voluntary codes of practice will not work, purely on the weight of numbers. The structure of the Australian Egg Corporation's voting is that the more chooks you have the more votes you get. It is like something out of Communist Russia, quite frankly. It is blatantly ridiculous.
Free-range egg producers are relatively small in number, as opposed to the cage producers—who produce a quality item as well. As I said, that is not the issue, and calling them 'barn eggs' where they can get out of a shed every now and then is one thing but genuine, free-range egg producers or those who choose to limit to 1,500 birds per hectare, should be treated properly. They should be treated properly and not subjected to intimidation, bullying and outright bloody lying from the Australian Egg Corporation. It is foolish and not helpful.”

This Bill may well be reintroduced if the Liberals gain government there.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

$400,000 penalties for false labelling

The Federal Court has ordered Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd and Bartter Enterprises Pty Ltd, the processers and suppliers of Steggles branded chicken products to pay $400,000 in penalties.
It said that the companies engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct when it described on product packaging and in advertising that its meat chickens were ‘free to roam in large barns’.
The Court found that prior to day 42 of a growth cycle that may be up to 56 days the chickens were kept at stocking densities that did not allow them to move around at will.
The Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc (ACMF), the peak industry body for Australia’s chicken meat industry, was also ordered to pay $20,000 in penalties.

Now this is out of the way, hopefully the ACCC and the courts will make a start of some of Australia's intensive egg producers who label their eggs as free range. The industry needs a legal definition of the term 'free range' - not the spin used by the corporate egg producers who control the Australian Egg Corporation.

Bodgy US report on the environmental footprint of egg farms

The US egg industry has released a report which says that egg production today is more efficient than previous decades and leaves a smaller environmental footprint.

Researchers conducted a lifecycle analysis of U.S. egg production from 1960 to 2010 to evaluate environmental performance measures for the complete lifecycle from crops to hens to the farm gate.

It's interesting that this study (funded by the corporate egg industry) does not include the environmental footprint generated by transporting the eggs across the country when the leave the farm.
Details here:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Choice Shonky Awards

Choice's Shonky Awards for 2013 are out. Ecoeggs was the first finalist announced followed by Dairy Farmers Oats Express, Qantas Frequent Flyer Toolbar, Energy Australia, Credit Repair Australia, EA Games, Nuk and Kleenex Mansize Tissues.

We reckon that Ecoeggs deserves to be the overall winner with the people's choice award because of its consistent and deliberate misrepresentation of its production system. It claims that the eggs in the cartons it sells all over New South Wales and Victoria (and probably other States) are free range when they are in fact produced on on several intensive egg laying facilities in the Port Stephens area.

The industry can do without these claims which are supported by the Australian Egg Corporation.

Everyone can now have their say on who should be the overall winner.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bird Flu .... Kill the ducks !!

Claims by our new Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, supported by avian veterinarian Dr Peter Scott that the 'free range' egg production system is responsible for the outbreak of Avian Influenza on two farms near Young in New South Wales are asbsurd.

Barnaby Joyce is following in the footsteps of his ministerial predecessors in only listening to the big end of town and Peter Scott is looking after his interests as a consultant to corporate egg producers.

There is little doubt that wild ducks may be a vector in the potential spread of Avian Influenza. As Dr Scott says 1% seem to be shedding the virus. So his solution is ..... shoot the ducks !!!!

In an interview with me by Hilary Harper on ABC 774, I ackowledged that the risk of avian flu in free range birds is an issue, but the main problem is on intensive so-called free range farms in Australia. It helps to not have a dam on the farm, to reduce the possibility of water fowl coming into contact with chickens.
How about planning a farm which does not encourage ducks?  Dams should not be permitted on free range egg farms. Or at least there should be distance limits imposed on their proximity to sheds and grazing areas.

If wild ducks are not encouraged to visit, most of them probably won't bother. For those that do, Maremma dogs with each flock will generally chase them away as they see large birds as predators.

Holding ponds need to be installed on the massive intensive farms which the industry has set up, because the potential nutrient run-off is devasting for our waterways and neighbouring properties.

What Dr Scott knows is that each hen produces around half a cubic metre of manure a year. So at a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare that's 5000 cubic metres of chook poo per year on every hectare. That is totally unsustainable. But worse - the Australian Egg Corporation wanted to allow a stocking density of 20,000 hens per hectare, doubling the nutrient load to 10,000 cubic metres a year! What a crock.

The issue here is that intensive egg production facilities should not be classified as free range. Any farm which runs more than 1500 hens per hectare (and that is an absolute maximum) should not be classified as free range.

There are plenty of names they can use  - Cage Free, Barn Laid or whatever -  but Free Range should be left alone for those of us who meet consumer expectations.

Obviously it is cheaper to produce eggs on an intensive farm with 400,000 hens than on a free range farm with 2000 hens. If the cartons are properly labelled and customers understand what they are buying and choose the intensive system - that's fine.

But I think it's a total con for intensive farms to be allowed to label their eggs as free range when they are running huge numbers of hens, the hens are beak trimmed, they are using meat meal derived from poultry and additives to enhance yolk colour.

There's no question that intensive poultry farms are the problem and it is irresponsible for the Federal Minister for Agriculture to turn his back on family farms and push the barrow of the corporate egg industry. Of course he won't acknowledge that he was wrong - he will just plough on.

An investigation needs to be completed into how the outbreak started in Young and how it spread before there are any knee-jerk reactions from politicians or industry heavyweights. Research also needs to be conducted into the health issues associated with intensive animal husbandry and the adviseability of multiple production systems on an egg farm.

The call to kill the ducks as a solution to a problem generated by corporate greed makes as much sense as the badger cull in England ostensibly to reduce the incidence of bovine TB.

Senior lecturer in animal behaviour and welfare in the school of animal and veterinary sciences at Charles Sturt University, Doctor Rafael Freire thinks claims that free range egg production will encourage more bird flu outbreaks is a "bit of a stretch".

"There's a few studies on transmission to domestic populations of poultry in Europe and the evidence doesn't seem to suggest that that's a very big risk," he said. "You have to just think of it in the big scheme of things. It's transmitted to any bird that's flying around outside and of course there are millions.

"And we know very well that even birds in cages can be infected by bird flu because wild birds fly into the shed."

As a result of the Avian Influenza outbreaks we have beefed up the biosecurity segment of our workshop on starting a free range farm. It has always been an issue but the recent incidents have demonstrated that every farm needs to take the problem seriously.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Biosecurity on free range farms

Following the Avian Flu outbreak at a major poultry farm in Young, NSW, we've had a number of enquiries about the issue of biosecurity on free range farms. All hens on that farm have now been culled, but there has been a second outbreak on a nearby farm.

Clearly all farms should address biosecurity issues in conjunction with their Quality Assurance and Food Safety programmes - but some don't. Until an enquiry has been completed into how this outbreak (or outbreaks) started, no-one knows why this happened.

Intensive farming always generates potential for rampant disease outbreaks but until the dust settles, no-one should be pointing fingers.

We have amended our Biosecurity and Poultry Disease Risk Management paper which is available on the download page of the Freeranger website and we will be including more biosecurity info in our workshops.

It's disappointing (but not surprising) that the new Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce chose to buy into the issue saying that free range farming is to blame. An investigation into how the outbreaks started needs to be conducted before blame can be attributed.

Here's a Youtube video which is useful:

Free Range Farmers Association still can't face reality

The Free Range Farmers Association Secretary didn't like my statement that the Association is in meltdown and as you can see from her earlier response – she says that my comments “will be forwarded to our legal representation for further action.”

She complains that my comments constitute 'bullying' which is a bit rich coming from a committee which has been expert at attempting to intimidate and control members. Anyway, I will be more than happy to deal with these issues in court if that is their choice.

The word 'Meltdown' appears to have particularly got up her nose but what better word could describe an organisation with this record:

Membership of the Free Range Farmers Association has fallen dramatically following committee decisions in 2012 and 2013 not to uphold the Association's standards relating to the use of colouring additives in poultry feed and packing eggs from non-accredited sources.

Former FRFA Secretary Tania Murray resigned in April 2013

Former President and FRFA Accreditation Officer Graeme Barwise resigned from the Association in May 2013, following false allegations by the acting secretary that he had no hens on his farm. She repeated that false claim in a formal complaint to the Victorian Farmers Markets Association about the Free As A Bird farm at Tooradin. Following an investigation, the complaint was shown to be unfounded.

Former President and Accreditation Officer Philip Westwood did not renew his FRFA membership at the end of June 2013 – so ceased to be a member at that time. Committee members made false and defamatory allegations about him to other members and outside organisations but were unable to produce a shred of evidence.

Former President Anne Westwood did not renew her FRFA membership at the end of June 2013 – so ceased to be a member at that time.

Former Treasurer and Committee member Phillip Ledin resigned in July 2013

Treasurer Marnie Ellis resigned in July 2013

Former President Dan Green failed to renew his membership for 2013 – 14.

Committee Member Paula Jones chose not to renew her membership

A number of FRFA members have also chosen not to renew their membership for 2013 – 14 as no member benefits were provided by the previous committee.

The FRFA year ends on June 30, and the Model Rules adopted by the Association require membership fees to be paid in advance prior to July 1 each year. The committee failed to send out membership renewals prior to the year end and membership fees had not been paid before the annual meeting which was hurriedly called on August 12, 2013. Only some 'members' were advised when the annual meeting was to be held. Annual accounts were not circulated and proper notice of the 2013 Annual General Meeting was not sent to all members – in fact the Association had no members at that time as the fees had not been paid.

Minutes of the AGM have not been circulated and members have not been advised who is currently on the committee.

'Meltdown' seems to be an apt description of the current state of the Free Range Farmers Association. The actions of the committee brought the Association into disrepute.
I rest my case!!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

No 'Free Range' voice in Victoria

It's very sad that In Victoria there is no longer a voice for the free range egg industry. The Free Range Farmers Association Inc. appears to be in complete meltdown. Following very dodgy events over the past 12 months the Association has lost four former presidents, two former treasurers and two former secretaries. It is understood that several 'ordinary members' have not renewed their membership as a result of the scandalous behaviour of the committee - but their names still appear as 'members' on the FRFA website. What is the association trying to hide?
The industry deserves better than this but the current President, Dianne Moore and Secretary, Jessica Luketic refuse to recognise the problems they have created.
At a time when Woolworths and Coles have taken on the issue of stocking density standards for 'free range' eggs it's hard to believe that these people have been so prepared to destroy a strong industry voice. Sure, there are animal welfare groups out there making some of the running, but the egg industry deserves its own voice.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Next workshop on starting a free range egg farm

The next workshop on starting a free range egg farm is planned to be at the Freeranger farm here in Grantville on Sunday November 24, 2pm - 4.30. The next one after that probably won't be until May 2014.
Here's a link to the Fair Food Week website in August (which was when we ran the last workshop). The format will be similar but we will add more detail about biosecurity issues on free range farms.
The cost is $40 per person which includes our eBook. Payment can either be made by cheque, direct debit into our bank account or via Paypal. Check out the products page on the Freeranger website for banking details.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Avian flu outbreak may cause an industry re-think

The sheer scale of the outbreak of avian influenza on a 400,000 hen egg farm at Young in NSW is sending shockwaves through the industry.

It is supposedly a 'state of the art' farm with an intensive free range operation mixed with cage layer sheds.

Once the dust has settled and investigations into how the outbreak started, and why internal biosecurity measures did not stop the disease from spreading to the hens in cages the industry needs to take a good hard look at itself.

Are these massive farms with intensive production systems the great idea that corporate egg farms say they are? Is is sensible to have such large numbers of hens (or any animals) in such a small space? Are there specific problems with multiple production systems on one farm, intensive free range as well as barn or cage operations?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Free range website for consumers

Here's a great website for consumers which has been developed by the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.

It's a great pity that we don't have an organisation like that here. If our free range associations hadn't gone off the rails, maybe we could have got there. Too late now.

Monday, October 14, 2013

High-tech free range - or consumer con?

I found it interesting that on the day we were running our Open Day to show consumers what real free range egg farming is all about, the Launceston Examinar ran an articles about Pure Foods so-called 'free range' operation at Longford.

Each of their sheds houses about 14,500 hens that are free to roam the shed and are 'allowed' to go outside once they have laid.

The indoor area has covered nesting boxes, a food chain that dishes out food eight times a day, and a number of perches above a manure belt that is unloaded twice a week. The sheds have computer controlled lights, temperature, humidity, feed, water and openings to the outdoors.

Pure Foods is hoping for Government funding to build more of the same !!!!!!!

Read the full story here:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Open Day today

Well the day has finally arrived. Our Open Day at the Freeranger farm to show how a real free range farm operates. Low stocking densities, plenty of space for the hens, unlimited access to pasture, the hens are never locked up, only natural grains are fed with no meat meal or colouring additives etc. etc......

Hopefully we will be able to get the message across to consumers that there are plenty of eggs out there labelled as free range which don't meet expected standards or labelling requirements.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Freeranger on ABC Radio

ABC Gippsland reporter Jenni Henderson came to the farm last week to record an interview about our farm Open Day this Sunday. She did an excellent job and the interview was broadcast on various ABC radio stations this morning. It may well be on Country Hour throughout Victoria at midday.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Woolworths to ban cage eggs from its shelves

The supermarket giant Woolworths is set to announce that it will phase out the sale of cage eggs in its stores by 2018. It seems like a draconian step that will send shock waves through the industry.

Surely consumers should have a choice - as long as the eggs are labelled honestly? If the egg farms meet the provisions of the Model Code they should be able to sell the eggs to anyone who is prepared to buy them. Apparently that won't be Woolworths.

One of the Woolworths' brands, Macro uses a maximum chicken stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare but Woolworths’ Select free-range eggs has a stocking rate of 10,000 per hectare - that is a consumer con.

This just makes it more obvious that there has to be a legal national definition of the term 'free range'. Leaving it up to the industry and a couple of grocers doesn't treat consumers fairly.

Details from The Age:

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Coles' standard encourages 'Mickey Mouse' egg farms

Who would have thought that New South Wales cage egg industry heavyweight, Bede Burke from Tamworth, would join the fight against high density 'free range' production.

He is on record as saying that the Coles' drive for more free range eggs 'is an animal welfare disaster in the making.'

Mr Burke told the Tamworth City Times that profitability on free range farms was being driven down and they would become intensive open-air factories. He said it was already happening as Coles demanded more eggs from suppliers.

It looks all nice and populist for the consumer, but in reality it is encouraging cowboy operations. Coles demand for free range eggs is encouraging Mickey Mouse operations run with too many birds in bad facilities.”

We couldn't agree more with Mr Burke. That is exactly what Coles and the Australian Egg Corporation have done.

As a result, egg quality, freshness and food safety standards are being and will be compromised,” he added.

Good on Mr Burke for saying it like it is.

Bede Burke is Chair of the NSW Farmers Association Egg Group

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Free Range Super Complaint

The Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax media outlets have run a story today about the consumer group CHOICE lodging a Super Complaint with Fair Trading in NSW about the egg industry and the definition of 'free range'.
Politicians can't keep ignoring the problem. Sooner or later they will have to climb out of the pockets of the big industry players and show some leadership.
Read the full story by Sarah Whyte here:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Freeranger Open Day

Rather than print hundreds of pages for visitors to take away on our Open Day on Sunday October 13, all Fact Sheets are available on our website as downloadable PDF's

They can be accessed at:

This is in keeping with the farm's environmental policy to limit unnecessary waste. We haven't quite achieved a paperless office - but we are getting pretty close.

The Open Day is designed to celebrate World Egg Day and showcase free range egg farming.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Free Range Farmers nonsense

It's often hard to understand where people are coming from. It seems that the faceless individuals currently running the Free Range Farmers Association don't like some of the things I have been saying.
Well tough!!
I have stated very openly that I and the farm operated with Anne are no longer members of FRFA because the committee refused to uphold the standards of the Association.
In press coverage I do not claim to represent FRFA or the national association. I tell journalists that I am the immediate Past President of the national body.
What more can I do? I can't help it if the reporters want to obtain factual information from me rather than mindless nonsense from the newly appointed FRFA President or Secretary.
There is nothing on the FRFA website to show members (or anyone else) who are on the committee. But from aggressive and negative letters which have been sent out, it seems that Dianne Moore is currently the President, and Jessica Luketic is the secreatary. WHY HAVEN'T MEMBERS BEEN INFORMED? 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hopes run high for ACCC action on egg industry

ABC Radio in Victoria ran this today in its rural news programmes.  It was a follow up piece to the news that the ACCC has asked for major egg farms to supply details of their trading actions which may have been anti-competetive.

Monday, September 02, 2013

RSPCA accreditation is questioned

It is surprising that the RSPCA has an accreditation program which it appears may not meet consumer expectations.
Have a look at video footage on and see for yourself why consumer faith has been shaken yet again in accreditation systems. Why should consumers trust any labels! This is only the latest in a line of revelations which indicate that accreditation standards are less than adequate. However, RSPCA says that it has visited the farm in question since it viewed the footage and saw nothing like the scenes depicted in the video.

Freeranger Eggs is no longer a member of, or accredited by, the Free Range Farmers Association Inc. because the last committee of that Association did not enforce its own standards. We are also no longer accredited by Humane Choice.

Backlash against Queensland decision on stocking densities

There has been quite a public backlash to the Queensland Government decision to cave in to pressure from big business and the Australian Egg Corporation and allow an increase in stocking densities on free range egg farms.
For 10 years, Queensland has been the only State in Australia with regulations limiting stocking densities to 1500 hens per hectare - in line with the Model Code. The industry there has coped very sucessfully so it is rather bizare that at a time when the Model Code is under review that the Government suddenly made a unilateral decision and took a backward step.
Here are some details from the Weekly Times.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Open Day to celebrate World Egg Day

World Egg Day is on the second Friday in October every year - so this year it's October 11. To mark the occasion, we will have an Open Day on the Freeranger Egg farm at Grantville on Sunday October 13. (An open day on a Friday probably wouldn't work and we can't do the Saturday because we have two Farmers' Markets. So Sunday the 13th it is!
We will be able to demonstrate how a genuine free range farm operates with low stocking densities; without the need for feeding pellets containing meat meal and colouring additives; without beak trimming the hens and without having to lock our chooks up - even at night.
The Open Day is in addition to workshops on starting a free range egg farm which are run throughout the year on the Grantville property. The last one was as part of Fair Food Week a couple of weeks ago. (We will probably run another workshop in November but we haven't set a date yet).
We will get information kits together for visitors to the farm Open Day to take away with them.

The first World Egg Day, organised by the International Egg Commission was celebrated in 1996.
Much more info later.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What does 'free range' mean?

Freeranger Eggs is currently not involved with any industry accreditation body other than the Victorian Farmers Markets' Association. We are registered as a free range egg farm with our Council, Bass Coast Shire and with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Until June 30 this year, we were members of (and accredited by) the Free Range Farmers Association. But we chose not to renew our membership as the association failed to uphold and maintain its own standards and had failed to conduct farm inspections during the year (which is about the only significant cost to the Association and is the only benefit for members).

We also had a partnered accreditation agreement with Humane Choice. But with the actions of the committee of the Free Range Farmers Association in destroying the credibility of FRFA, that agreement has lapsed even though it was set to run until next November. Verna Simpson, the CEO of the Humane Society International which operates the Humane Choice program has sent us  this invitation:"As FRFA does not seem to be continuing as a certification body you are welcome to become a full HC farm. Your farm is what free range farming is all about and you would obviously have no trouble meeting our audit requirements. It is just a shame that FRFA’s internal issues could not be resolved."

The problem erupted over the re-accreditation by the FRFA committee of a farm which breached the Association's standards by packaging eggs from non-accredited sources (egg substitution) and not taking action against farms which used pelleted feed containing colouring additives. The use of manufactured colouring additives was specifically banned by the FRFA standards.

As things stand, there is no accreditation body in Australia which meets the standards we have maintained on the Freeranger Eggs farm.

Some of the egg accreditation organisations are formally recognised by Governments – but some are not.

Here's brief view of the accreditation systems currently around in Victoria.

Egg Corp Assured – Allows beak trimming and unlimited stocking densities in sheds or range areas – The Australian Egg Corporation has acknowledged that some 'free range' farms run 40,000 hens per hectare or more. It also has no restrictions on the inclusion of meat meal or colouring additives in feed.

RSPCA - Not interested in accrediting small producers as they have a royalty system in place which provides an income stream for them per dozen eggs sold and they want volume producers. Allows beak trimming and outdoor stocking densities of up to 2500 hens per hectare. It seems there are no restrictions on feed or colouring additives. Apparently there are only two RSPCA accredited free range egg farms throughout Australia.

Humane Choice – Does not allow beak trimming. Maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare. Allows colouring additives. Does not allow the use of same species in meat meal used in hen rations. 

Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd – Allows beak trimming. Stocking densities appear to be variable. No restrictions on feed.

Free Range Farmers Association – Does not allow beak trimming. Limits stocking density to 750 hens per hectare (but committee members have said they want to increase the numbers to 1500). Now allows manufactured colouring additives in the feed ration. Allows meat meal in the feed (which may be derived from poultry).

Organic certification -  This is probably the closest to the standards we have at Freeranger Eggs. But at least one of the certification bodies (NASAA) allows manufactured colouring additives in the chook food.

Is it any wonder that the industry is in turmoil and that consumers are confused? Happy to hear your comments.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How 'free range' are the eggs consumers buy?

Problems in the New Zealand egg industry appear to be exactly the same as the issues free range egg farmers have here in Australia.
Here's a clear report about what is going on there:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Controlling aggression in chickens without beak trimming

Beak trimming of laying hens is still a widespread practice in Australia – even in 'free range' flocks of birds. The majority of so-called free range farms are intensive production systems with flocks of many thousands of hens.

Even the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry, which provides the only widely accepted national definition of the term 'free range' states that every effort should be made to avoid beak trimming by selecting birds which have more docile tendencies.

But the reality is that intensive free range farms beak trim their birds as a matter of course because they want to run large numbers and they chose to use high producing hens developed for the cage industry. These hens have been selectively cross bred for only two traits – maximum egg production and minimum feed intake. This often means they are aggressive and cannibalistic.

It is important to select a strain of bird that is less aggressive, and to get breeders to breed birds that are more docile. Research has shown that breeding for low aggression can have a marked effect in only 4 or 5 generations. Dr Mike Gentle, a U.S. researcher in this area, has concluded:
" In the long term, beak trimming should be phased out and undesirable behaviour controlled by environmental means and by increased effort being devoted to the genetic selection of commercial stocks which do not engage in damaging pecking, either in cages or when floor-housed in large flocks. "

In our view, hens should be kept in groups small enough to be able to recognise each other. At Freeranger Eggs we run maximum flock sizes of 250 – 300 birds.

Hens need to express their natural behaviour, including the strong urge to peck. They must have material in which to forage and dust bathe.

Good husbandry is a major factor in reducing aggression, especially preventing conditions that cause frustration in hens. They must also have an adequate and well-balanced diet, easy access to food and water, enough space, and minimum disturbance.

Egg farmers need to make a much greater effort to control aggression without beak trimming. From our experience talking with consumers at Farmers' Markets, they do not believe that 'free range' production should involve the beak trimming of birds. Aggression and cannibalism is a behavioural problem which is easily solved by effective poultry management and selection of birds.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Egg labelling is a shambles in Australia

Egg labelling laws and accreditation processes are a shambles in Australia because there is no legally recognised national definition of the term 'free range'. The Queensland Government has relaxed its regulation limiting stocking densities to 1500 hens per hectare on free range farms to 10,000 per hectare.

The NSW Government seems set to reject a Truth in Labelling Bill which has passed the Upper House and the SA Government is introducing a 'voluntary' code for the industry in that State.

Egg substitution has been rife for years but probably first came to general notice in Victoria during 2007 with a high profile case when a company was fined for labelling eggs as organic when they were from conventional farms.

In 2012, a NSW barn egg farm was fined for packaging its eggs as free range and a South Australian egg seller was fined for putting cage eggs in free range cartons.

Also in 2012. An egg farm in WA was caught with a huge overstocking rate which breached its planning conditions. This farm was accredited by a national egg quality scheme but despite annual audits which required compliance with planning conditions the farm remained accredited. The accreditation was only withdrawn once the breaches became public and legal proceedings began.

In Victoria in 2012 inspection and audit processes revealed that a farm was packing and selling non-accredited eggs from dubious sources and that colouring additives were being used in poultry feed – breaching particular standards.

Labels can also be misleading, with pictures of hens frolicking on green pasture, which frequently don't resemble conditions on the farm.

A questionable 'organic' accreditation body also exists in Victoria which is not recognised by mainstream organic bodies and which does not have a credible inspection process – but claims that the products which its members sell are certified organic. AQIS, which registers organic certification bodies in Australia, is apparently only involved with export industries – so it has no jurisdiction over domestic 'organic' claims.

Accreditation means different things to different people. Consumers rightly expect it to convey a message of credibility about a particular product, but to many businesses it's simply a marketing tool designed to allow them to make claims which increase their profits.

Similarly, a logo can be a valuable asset if it is trusted by consumers. But it's value can be destroyed if it is shown to be meaningless. Any accreditation program is only as good as the willingness of the accreditation body to maintain its standards and defend its logo.

That is why it is so disappointing that standards are ignored by accreditation bodies. Even using things like egg yolk colourings should be disclosed to consumers. Everyone expects cage farms to use them to enhance yolk colour but it is neither needed nor necessary on a genuine free range farm with low stocking densities and plenty of green feed.

To maintain ethical standards and credibility, all certification bodies need to defend their standards and take action against suppliers who break the rules.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has asked many egg producers to justify the claims made on their packaging – claims such as 'free range'.

Hopefully this will start a 'clean-up' process.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bird Flu research - report from UK

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say that a limited cross infection of bird flu from human to human is not surprising.

They say that in China the majority of the 133 confirmed cases reported so far seem to be epidemiologically unconnected, with many patients reporting a recent history of exposure to live poultry, which are suspected to be a main reservoir for the virus. Although an earlier study did report two family clusters of H7N9 cases, it was unclear whether these clusters resulted from person to person transmission or simply from exposure to a common animal source of infection.

The researchers say that although the study, led by the Jiangsu Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention, provides the strongest evidence yet of H7N9 transmission between humans, it probably does not mean that the virus has come one step closer towards adapting fully to humans.

The full report in the British Medical Journal is here:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Queensland decision ridiculed

This was published today in the Canberra Times and the Brisbane Times and perhaps other newspapers across the country.  It is a comment piece written by John Birmingham and it paints an accurate picture of the Queensland Government decision to cave in to big business.

It’s hard to imagine anyone getting excited over the prospect of squeezing 10,000 chickens into something like a suburban block.

But the local minister for chickens, John McVeigh, seems very excited indeed at the prospect. As no doubt are the giant egg producers who’ve been lobbying for years redefine ‘free range’ eggs as ‘free to make enormous sodding profits from a lot of gullible punters and even grumpier chickens’.

If the industry could only sell millions more tasteless pale little yellow eggs from sad old cluckers imprisoned in closely packed sheds for the same price those free range hippies are selling their bloated inconveniently tasty golden eggs of goodness, why, the giant industrial farming companies which make up most of membership of the Australian Egg Corporation Limited would make a lot more money.

You can see why a state government with close ties to an industrial agribusiness like factory-scale egg producers would want to give them a free ticket to cash in on people’s desire for a half decent goog into which to dip their Vegemite toast soldiers. But I can’t see why we’d let them get away with it. This is such a blatant shakedown.

For some people, including most genuine free range farmers, it’s a matter of ethics, of not treating the chooks poorly. But even if you don’t much care about that, you should totally care that these bastards are trying to sell you a vastly inferior product at a grotesque mark up simply because their mates in the government have tipped them the nod to get away with it.