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.