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: