Tuesday, March 06, 2018

D-Day for free range egg labels April 26

The new information standard on free range eggs adopted by Ministers for Consumer Affairs comes into effect on April 26 even though it is meaningless and contrary to the interests of the industry, and consumers. The standard allows intensive production systems to be classified as free range and protects intensive producers from prosecution under Australian Consumer Law. The new standard simply allows unscrupulous producers to continue to mislead customers. Ministers have regulated that an outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare is classified as free range and from April 26 all egg cartons must carry a stocking density even thought the cartons are already overcrowded with meaningless information which baffles consumers. Loopholes in the standard ensure that almost any excuse can be given for keeping hens locked up. There is no mechanism for checking each operation – so it would have been more effective to leave things as they were and let the ACCC launch prosecutions. Adopting the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals (Domestic Poultry) would have been a more realistic standard. Intensive egg producers will simply divide the amount of land they have by the number of birds to come up with a completely misleading stocking density – but which meets legal requirements. The business may have a million hens in various sheds but because it operates on a large property it will be able meet the absurd standard. In our case we have a modest 80 hectare property – which means that the law allows us to have 800,000 chickens. We currently run about 400 and during periods of peak demand we increase numbers to 1000 or 1200 birds. This gives us a current stocking density of 5 hens per hectare and maximum stocking rate of 15 per hectare. Why should we be forced to put that on our cartons and do we have to keep amending it when a new flock is brought in? This problem would not arise if politicians had done their jobs and produced an effective free range standard. Free range would be the only words needed if a proper standard had been adopted.

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