Woolies’ plan to phase out caged eggs will hurt farmers: VFF

As part of a new partnership with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Woolworths will be phasing out caged eggs within four or five years and will commit to stocking RSPCA or equivalent certified fresh chicken.

The move has been deemed as 'costly' by president of the Victorian Farmers Federation egg group, Brian Ahmed. Ahmed said that the move will affect both famers and consumers, and will serve as an unwelcome change for the egg industry, the Weekly Times Now reports.

"We want to all go free range but it's costly. They are going to take away a good protein source from consumers that can't afford it," he said.

In addition to an increase in cost, Ahmed said that many farmers converted to new cage systems only five years ago, which were then fully compliant with industry standards. Ahmed is doubtful that farmers will recieve any compensation to move away from caged systems.  

In contrast, Lyn White, campaign director for Animals Australia said that the organisation welcomed the move.

"Hens have been paying a terrible price for cheaper eggs. It's terrific that Woolworths has acknowledged this and taken an historic ethical stand on this issue," Ms White said.

"We would hope that other retailers match this commitment so that this move sees the beginning of the end of battery cages in this country."                                                                                                                                                  

Woolworths’ announcement comes just days after consumer watchdog Choice submitted its second ever ‘super-complaint’ to NSW Fair Trading, requesting that the government body investigate whether 'free-range' egg claims are misleading consumers.

 

Abbott’s Jakarta visit delivers ‘breakthrough’ in live cattle trade

Prime minister Tony Abbott’s recent visit to Indonesia has resulted in a special quota of 53,000 ‘slaughter ready’ cattle, in addition to the December quarter quota of 46,000 cattle which will be headed to feedlots before processing.

The negotiations were headed by two agricultural ministries prior to Abbott’s arrival, and included a compromise on Indonesia’s demand for animal health tracking information, something which was previously rejected by Australians as being unacceptable, The Australian reports.

However, Malcolm Jackman, chief executive of Elders said that cattle producers are unlikely to be able to provide such numbers by the end of the year.

"I suspect that 53,000 in three months will be a bit of a struggle but I think that people will get after it pretty rapidly," he said.

Jackman said that Indonesia serves as a highly important market for the Australian cattle industry and that producers intend on maintaining healthy business relationships.

"It's by far the most natural market — the market's well-established, the relationships are well-established and because it's so close, it works really well," he said.

In addition, Abbott also demonstrated a positive response to Indonesia’s plan to invest in 1.5m hectares of northern Australian cattle land – a plan which will undoubtedly be subject to an investigation by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Abbott said that there are still a lot of negotiations that will need to take place in regards to the live cattle trade, however he was intent on contrasting his recent efforts with the Gillard government’s 2011 suspension of the live cattle trade which was halted due to evidence of animal cruelty.

"We can work together — but it will take some effort, especially after the shock of the former Australian government cancelling the live-cattle export trade in panic at a TV program," he told a business breakfast.

"Nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again."

"Last year, I visited abattoirs in Indonesia which were quite comparable to those in Australia and reject any notion that Indonesian standards are lower than Australia's."

Earlier this year, animal welfare groups around Australia including the RSPCA called for a restructure away from live exports in favour of a meat-only export trade to ensure that animals are slaughtered humanely. 

Lynne Bradshaw, president of the RSPCA said that as live export is a high risk industry, overnight market shocks and interruptions to trade will continue to create uncertainty and impact producers unless a restructure is formed.

 

Choice submits super-complaint on free range egg claims

Consumer watchdog Choice has submitted its second ever ‘super-complaint’ to NSW Fair Trading, requesting that the government body investigate whether 'free-range' egg claims are misleading consumers.

Launched in June 2011 by the minister for fair trading, the super-complaint project will allow Choice to present evidence to NSW Fair Trading that demonstrates that features of a market for consumer goods or services is, or appears to be, harming the interests of consumers.

In the super-complaint Choice demonstrated that on average, free range eggs can cost up to twice as much as caged eggs and close to a fifth more than barn eggs. Despite the significant increase in price, Choice says that consumers cannot be confident that they are purchasing a truly free range product as there is no consistency in industry standards.

“Cracks are beginning to appear in the free-range egg market, which accounts for around 40% of eggs sold in Australia, with considerable variation in the conditions in which supposedly free-range chickens are kept,” said CHOICE lead campaigner Angela McDougall.

“CHOICE research has shown that consumers purchasing free-range eggs expect that the layer hens have access to the outdoors and space to move around with limits on the number of birds on the outdoor range – but the Australian Egg Corporation itself has admitted there is huge variation in the conditions in supposedly free-range operations.”

Choice is expecting to receive a response from NSW Fair Trading before the end of the year when the 18 month trail agreement of the super-complaint project will be completed.

“We commend the NSW Government and Minister Anthony Roberts for their ongoing commitment to the super-complaints trial, which has the potential to become a powerful tool in protecting consumers’ interests. CHOICE hopes that NSW Fair Trading will agree with the concerns outlined in the super-complaint, and take action to give consumers confidence around free-range claims in NSW,” McDougall says.

At present, the national model code defines ‘free range’ birds as having a stocking density maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare, however the Australian Egg Corporation has been pushing to increase the stocking density to 20,000.

The Queensland government recently increased the 1,500 stocking density to 10,000 birds per hectare – marking a 667 percent increase. While the South Australian government has now defined free range eggs as a maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare.

 

New meat industry initiative embraces independent animal welfare audits

A new initiative aimed at boosting animal welfare standards has been launched by the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC).

The new voluntary initiative or welfare code, will require Australian meat processors to employ independent third party auditors to ensure that processors meet strict animal welfare standards.

The code will apply from the time the animal enters a processing facility, right through to slaughter, ABC Rural reports.

Tom McGuire, AMIC’s animal welfare spokesperson said that animal welfare is highly important from both a consumer and industry standpoint.

"I think it is very important. Consumers and the general public expect that of us,” said McGuire.

"The auditing will be done by qualified auditors under a program managed by Aus-Meat on behalf of the council.

"From a consumer's perspective, they don't care where an animal welfare incident comes from, so it is important that the whole industry take this up so we can stand as one."

McGuire says that the program will provide processors with a training program in animal welfare and will provide valuable feedback to businesses.

"A key element of the program is to give feedback to producers about the quality of the livestock that have received, and if there are any incidents, such as whether an animal was not fit to load or there was any injury when the animal was received."

We are not got going to get more money for getting it right, but it is just a key to stay in business."

 

ACT’s plan to outlaw factory farming

The ACT could become the first state in Australia to legislate against factory farming, with an animal welfare bill introduced to the Legislative Assembly today.

Greens minister Shane Rattenbury will introduce the bill today, and it's expected to be supported by the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement, the ABC reports.

Expected to be passed next month, the bill will prohibit the use of battery cages, sow stalls and farrowing crates.

"These are both practices that are considered cruel and for many consumers don't meet modern expectations about how they want their food produced," said Rattenbury, who added that the Greens had been campaigning on the issue for 16 years.

While there are no commercial piggeries or battery hen factories in the ACT, Rattenbury said the legistlation is still necessary.

"If you have clear standards, no one will attempt to come here and set one up," he said.

However, the Egg Council of NSW says the legislation will hurt the industry and force prices up.

Bede Burke from the Egg Council said the industry tries to provide choice for consumers.

"I understand and concur that some people are willing to pay more for free range egg production or barn egg production, but by far and away the larger amount of consumers prefer to get an economical egg."

There's been a lot of attention placed on animal welfare in recent times, with the live exports scandal and inaccurate labelling claims made by brands including Baiada and Luv-a-Duck attracting significant media attention.
 

HSI welcomes ACCC’s decision to investigate egg industry

The Human Society International (HSI) has welcomed an investigation into the $445m egg industry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The investigation has been launched in response to a letter obtained from the head of peak industry body, the Australian Egg Corporation (AEC), which allegedly discusses supply practices and potential price manipulation The Land reports.

As part of the investigation, the ACCC has asked egg producers to provide the watchdog with details relating to profitability and production within their operations, as well as an explanation of each producers mounting practices – a period when laying hens stop producing eggs, then produce smaller eggs than normal thereafter.

HSI states that ‘forced mounting’ is a cruel method used by some producers to manipulate the availability of eggs. The technique increases the stress levels of the birds – usually by starving them completely for up to two weeks to trigger the moulting response.

“Consumers and hens deserve a better deal,” said HSI Director Verna Simpson. 

“With Egg Corporation, Government and supermarkets determined to bring an end to the true free range industry we are just thankful that ACCC is vigorously investigating and trust that this will bring much needed clarity to the market place.”

 

The truth about free range eggs is tough to crack

Queensland recently changed its regulation of free range eggs, lifting the number of hens allowed per hectare from 1,500 to 10,000. This is more than a six-fold increase.

Choice and animal welfare and free range farming advocates are in an uproar about the changes. Queensland “free range” no longer means free range at all, they say.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says that the new figure is necessary, so that the Queensland egg industry won’t be disadvantaged compared with other states.

In fact no other states have a legislated definition for free range, or minimum stocking density. The department says industry practice is to stock free range egg facilities well in excess of 1,500 birds per hectare.

So, how are we to know that our free range eggs are really free range?

Standards galore

The Primary Industries departments of all Australian state and federal governments work together to set animal welfare guidelines for egg production in the Model Code of Practice for Poultry. The latest version was agreed in 2002 and is now under review. Currently it states that free range can mean up to 1,500 birds per hectare standard, but this could change.

The industry services body that represents producers, the Australian Egg Corporation, admitted last year that some free range egg production facilities stock up to 30 or 40,000 hens per hectare.

The Egg Corp has proposed an industry standard for free range of up to 20,000 birds per hectare. Their proposed standard was assessed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commissioner as likely to mislead and deceive consumers.

In January 2013 supermarket giant Coles announced that it would only stock cage free eggs in its own brand range. For Coles, “free range” would mean a maximum of 10,000 hens per hectare outdoors.

The 10,000 figure was not based on any particular evidence or science. Rather it is based on a combination or balancing of what animal welfare requires, what industry say they can accomplish, and what Coles believes consumers feel they can afford based on extensive consumer research.

The new Queensland regulation is still better than other states. It set a limit on outdoor stocking density lower than the 20,000 per hectare proposed by the Egg Corp, and the currently unlimited industry practice.

It also states that production facilities can only go above 1500 up to the 10,000 if hens are moved around and the ground has 60 percent vegetation cover.

So, what should Australia do?

The big problem with the new Queensland regulation is that it seems to accept that supermarkets in consultation with industry can ultimately decide what animal welfare practices are acceptable. In the absence of government regulation, supermarkets decide what free range means and what choices are available to consumers.

In fact consumers who buy “free range” in supermarkets are actually buying something that would be more accurately described as “barn” or, in more Australian vernacular, “shed” laid. These hens live and eat in large crowded industrial sheds with some access to an outside ranging area that is often bare and uninteresting.

By contrast many consumers, animal welfare advocates and food activists probably think free range means eggs from hens that largely range outside in paddocks, with ground foliage and tree cover and access to an indoor area to nest and perch.

Rather than letting supermarkets and industry dictate what “free range” means in the absence of government regulation, all Australian states and territories should mandate compliance with at least the minimal animal welfare conditions in the Model Code of Practice.

They should also legislate definitions of cage, barn or shed, and free range that make it clear that what often currently counts as free range in the supermarkets is actually barn or shed with outside access, not a truly alternative free range production system.

Consumers need to recognise that the only true free range eggs currently available are premium products that cost more than supermarket brand free range eggs.

An Australian state that really wanted to help its egg industry might do more to help consumers get direct access to farmers outside of the supermarket system.

The South Australian government’s recent proposal to introduce and support its own voluntary “South Australian Free Range” with more stringent standards is a step in this direction. What a pity Queensland chose to loosen its standards rather than market its difference.

Christine Parker does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

New Zealand chicken gains SPCA approval

New Zealand chicken free range producer, Waitoa will now carry the Blue Tick certification as approved by Animal Welfare body, the SPCA.

Jonathan Gray, Waitoa’s national sales manager said that the Blue Tick certification provides consumers with confidence that the animals have been treated humanely.

“Waitoa has carried FREPNZ farm accreditation since 2009, but the recent move to SPCA Blue Tick certification now provides kiwi consumers with further confidence that all products have been farmed and audited against the highest welfare standards,” said Gray.

“Grown in the green sunny valleys of the Waikato region, Waitoa free range chickens are provided a quality of care that ensures exceptional free range chicken. Our farmers believe being proudly ‘Blue Tick free range’ is worth the effort.”

The SPCA Blue Tick's national accreditation and marketing manager, Juliette Banks said that the group was pleased to award the certification to Waitoa.

“We are pleased to see Waitoa free range chicken meet our high welfare standards, providing consumers more options when looking to purchase poultry meat products displaying the SPCA Blue Tick,” she said.

 

Tasmania halts plans on free-range labelling initiative

Tasmania’s plan to be at the forefront of transparent free-range egg labelling has been put on hold as the national debate over the definition of ‘free range’ heats up.

The state’s Consumer Affairs Minister, Nick McKim announced a plan in July last year that would make retailers provide prominent signs detailing the different forms of egg production systems.

Concerns from industry however, forced the new legislation to be placed on hold as producers feared that the new initiative could harm their operations The Mercury reports.

Jennifer Lee, acting Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading director said that further consideration regarding the impact on egg producers was required before enacting the legislation.

"Egg labelling has also been on the agenda for the last few meetings of consumer affairs ministers from across Australia and we wanted to see where these discussions went before doing any other work locally," she said.

"A number of jurisdictions (Queensland, NSW and SA as well as the ACT, which already has laws in place) are now progressing local regulatory initiatives regarding egg labelling and, as such, we are now revising our local proposal for stakeholder feedback."

"The minister would like to see this legislation introduced to the Parliament before the end of 2013."

Lee’s comments come at a sensitive time for the industry as the Queensland Government recently announced that they will increase free range densities from 1,500 birds to 10,000 birds per hectare.

Animal protection society, the Human Society International (HSI) were outraged at the Queensland government’s decision, and called upon the public to boycott the industry.

 

HSI calls on consumers to boycott QLD eggs

Humane Society International is outraged by the Queensland government's recent changes to its free range egg standards, calling on consumers to boycott the industry.

Choice announced yesterday that the Queensland government had increased stocking density for its free range eggs from 1,500 birds per hectare to 10,000 birds per hectare – a 667 percent increase.

HSI, an animal protection agency which earlier in the year delivered 40,000 postcards to the prime minister Julia Gillard in protest of the continued mislabelling of free range eggs, says Queensland is threatening true free range egg production.

"The Queensland government has bowed to the pressure of the corporate giants and sold out Queensland family farms, the egg buying consumer and condemned hens to a life of factory farming misery," HSI said in a statement.

HSI said when Queensland was working to its previous 1,500 hens per hectare standard it had an advantage over other states, but now they're point of difference has been lost, especially considering South Australia recently committed to developing a free range labelling system for producers and stocking densities of 1,500 hens or less per hectare.

The Queensland government is allowing the supermarket duopoly to act as regulators in the industry, HSI said, and is making a mockery of the Model Code of Practice, which is intended as a guide for people responsible for the husbandry of domestic poultry.

Lee McCosker from Humane Choice, the certification scheme launched by HSI, called on consumers to turn their backs on Queensland's egg industry.

"In a perverse way the Queensland government has made it just that much easier to make the right choice when you buy free range eggs.  When purchasing eggs at the supermarket, just look at where they are packed and boycott any free range eggs produced in Queensland," she said.

HSI encourages consumers to buy egss from independent supermarkets, butchers, green grocers and farmers markets and to check they have authentic, reliable accreditation.

 

QLD government increases free range densities by 667 percent

Consumer group Choice is accusing the Queensland government of threatening the consumer's ability to make informed purchasing decisions by "stealthily" altering its free range standard.

The Queensland government had previously set a legal maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare for eggs sold under the free range label, but has now changed this amount to 10,000 birds per hectare, a 667 percent increase.

Choice director of campaigns and communications, Matt Levey, said "Consumers have shown they are willing to pay a premium for ‘free range’ eggs and yet changes like this make the term meaningless. This latest move by the Queensland government has jeopardised consumers’ ability to make informed purchasing decisions."

The national Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, currently under review and intended as a guide for people responsible for the husbandry of domestic poultry, specifies a maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare.

Choice says many consumers are unaware of the Queensland government's new free range standard.

Choice said Queensland's stocking density amendments have "flown under the radar" with many consumers in the state unaware of the changes.

"The increasing number of consumers who wish to buy free-range eggs, and often pay a premium, should be able to do so with confidence," said Levey.

Last month the South Australian government defined free range eggs as coming from hens stocked at 1,500 birds per hectare, a move welcomed by Humane Choice.

 

Further salmonella infections will see 4000 rare chickens destroyed

4000 rare chickens imported from the UK as part of a breeding program headed by the Australian Poultry Importation Syndicate will be destroyed.

The syndicate agreed to the destruction order after three more salmonella infections were confirmed earlier this week, the Weekly Times Now reports.

The Federal Agriculture Department initially ordered for the chicks to be destroyed over two weeks ago due to a single salmonella infection. The breeders won a Supreme Court injunction late last week to keep the chicks alive, however the additional salmonella infections have confirmed that incident was not isolated.

The Australian Poultry Importation Syndicate sourced the rare imported chicks from across the UK as part of a $500,000, 10 year breeding program, and were due to be released to breeders later this month.

The birds are currently being held in quarantine at Torrens Island where they have been since April.

 

Chicken breeders win second Supreme Court injunction

A syndicate of 80 poultry breeders have won a second Supreme Court injunction in relation to the destruction order of 4000 chicks which was issued by the Federal Agriculture Department.

The destruction order was issued last Friday due to a single salmonella infection which killed one of the birds. The incident was found to be an isolated one, with the disease being species-specific, and therefore non-threatening to humans, the Weekly Times Now reports.

The Australian Poultry Importation Syndicate sourced the rare imported chicks from across the UK as part of a $500,000, 10 year breeding program and were due to be released to breeders later this month.

The birds are currently still being held in quarantine at Torrens Island where they have been since April.

A second court hearing on the order is expected to take place in Adelaide within the coming week.

 

Cobb’s plan to cut agricultural costs targets supermarkets

Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, John Cobb plans to conduct a comprehensive audit in agriculture across all levels of government, should the Coalition be elected.

Cobb has stated that the audit would have a strong focus on regulations imposed by the nation’s supermarket giants, which he claims are driving up costs of production by implementing expensive requirements such as ‘sow-stall free pork’ in a push for greater market share, the Weekly Times Now reports.

"HGP-free, sow-stall free pork and barn-laid eggs are all examples of products that the supermarkets tell us we are demanding and these are imposing expensive capital upgrades by industry and also require ongoing and costly paper and audit trails," Cobb said.

"Pork is a classic example. Our fresh pork producers are being driven to provide pork that is not raised in sow stalls, yet imported ham and bacon products are not required to meet these standards."

Cobb also believes that requirements made by the supermarkets regarding chemical testing on home-grown food are excessive. According to Cobb, locally grown produce requires testing of up to 135 chemicals to comply with domestic regulatory standards as opposed to imported produce which only requires test for approximately 50 chemicals.

According to Cobb, the Labour government has introduced an additional 20,900 regulations since 2008, which have made Australian domestic markets increasing more difficult to remain competitive in.

"There are significant extra costs imposed on our domestic industries," said Cobb.

"The Coalition audit will highlight the extent of red tape and the differences between domestic and imported product red tape so we can ensure our domestic industries are not disadvantaged."

 

PETA wants a Victorian egg farmer to experience battery hen conditions

Animal activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have asked a Victorian farmer to experience battery hen conditions first hand by locking himself in a cage.

The proposal from PETA came as a response to comments made by Andrew Postregna from Tamarix Egg Farm in Dandenong South regarding caged hens in a promotional video, the Dandenong Leader reports.

The video was produced by the Australian Egg Corporation and promotes the notion that consumers have a right to choose between caged and free range eggs.

In the video, Postregna claims that caged hens experience less stress than free range birds.

"When there's a few birds in a cage they tend to know each other. They're happy. Their stress levels seem to be a lot less than what it is in free-range," said Postregna.

PETA sent a letter to Postregna offering $100 per hour – to charity, for up for 34 hours to confine himself to a cage of similar proportions to his body.

PETA spokesman Jason Baker said that 34 hours is around the same amount of time that it takes a chicken to lay an egg.

"Maybe after Mr Postregna gets a real feel for being caged, he'll stop claiming that caged hens are 'happy'," he said.

"Chickens forced into egg production are among the most abused animals in the world."

 

Piggery fined for feeding animal remains to stock

A piggery just South of Wollongong on the NSW South Coast has been fined after stock was found to have consumed animal remains.

The Illawarra Mercury has reported that several animal bones were found at the farm during an inspection by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

The findings represent a serious breach of feeding regulations and the owner was fined $550 over the incident.

Dr Andrew Sanger, director for biosecurity at the DPI said that swill feeding, or feeding meat to pigs was illegal and risked the spreading of serious animal diseases.

"Swill feeding has the potential to cause exotic disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth disease," he said.

"Diseases associated with swill feeding animals have the potential to cause massive disaster for our livestock industries through loss of export markets, lost production and large-scale animal health and welfare issues."

The animals were initially detained to ensure that they posed no risk of disease and have since been released.

Details of the piggery have not been revealed by the DPI due to confidentiality reasons, however the operation is believed to be relatively small with around 12 animals.

 

Struggling Victorian farmers to receive $30m in low interest loans

Struggling Victorian farmers will have access to a share of $30m in low interest loans from Friday.

The federal and Victorian governments approved the package which will allocate loans at a 4.5 percent concessional interest rate as opposed to commercial loans that attract rates up to 16 percent as reported by The Australian.

Federal Agriculture Minster Joel Fitzgibbon said that he was ‘determined’ to secure a total of $420m in low interest concessional loans to ensure that farmers can get back on their feet.

“That is my key focus and I’m determined to do it as quickly as possible..,. I recognise that some dairy farmers are facing pressures,” said Fitzgibbon.

 The assistance however does not appear likely to extend to struggling dairy and beef farmers between Colac and Koroit who have run out of grass to feed their herds.

Metropolitan consumers are being encouraged to donate to farmers in need through the Aussie Helpers Buy-a-Bale website, which has already raised $200,000 over the past four weeks for drought stricken farmers.

Victoria’s Southwest represents a major dairy production region and it has been reported that many cattle in the area have died from malnourishment. 

 

Baiada busted for misleading ‘free to roam’ claims

Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, the processors and suppliers of Steggles chicken products,  misled consumers by claiming their chickens were "free to roam", when really their movements were restricted to an area comparable to an A4 sheet of paper, a court has found.

Following a complaint by the ACCC, the Federal Court found the companies misled consumers by using the term "free to roam" in its marketing campaigns.

The Australian Chicken Meat Federation, the peak industry body for Australia’s chicken meat industry, was also found to have engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct by claiming on its website that chickens produced in Australia were ‘free to roam’ or able to ‘roam freely’ in large barns. 

The court found that the ordinary and natural meaning of the phrase ‘free to roam’ is “the largely uninhibited ability of the chickens to move around at will in an aimless manner.” However, Justice Tracey found that at times in their growth cycle the chickens “could not move more than a metre or so (at most) without having their further movement obstructed by a barrier of clustered birds."

Steggles' statistics indicated consistent stocking densities of between 17.4 and 19.6 chickens per square metre. The ACCC alleged that at these densities each chicken, on average, had access to floor space which was less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper and that this was contrary to the representation that they were ‘free to roam’.

The industry has stopped using the 'free to roam' term, but questions still surround the legitimacy of a similar claim – 'free range.'

The ACCC announced earlier this year that it would be placing special attention on credence claims in the food industry including free range claims, country of origin labelling and the labelling of olive oil.

There's been growing interest in the case to clearly define – and introduce standards for – free range labelling. In May, Human Society International delivered 40,000 postcards to the prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, in protest of the continued mislabelling of free range eggs.

Lee McCosker, chief operating officer for Humane Choice, the certification scheme launched by HSI, said consumer's are becoming increasingly frustrated with misleading labelling and Australia's big retailers and industry bodies, including the Australian Egg Corporation, aren't taking their concerns seriously.

"They have attempted to take advantage of the consumer’s limited knowledge of egg production systems while toying with their concerns for hen welfare and reaping a premium for mislabelled eggs," she said.

HSI has been urging the federal government to take action by legislating a national standard for free range eggs.

South Australia is leading the way here, setting an industry code in June and defining free range eggs as coming from hens stocked at 1,500 birds per hectare.

The proposal, McCosker says, will encourage supermarkets to make a broader selection of eggs available to consumers.

"I believe this industry code will actually bring clarity to the free range confusion and those producers that are meeting consumer expectation will stand out from the crowd. Consumers will then be able to decide if they are willing to pay a little more for what they want, or accept eggs grown under a more intensive operation.  The choice will be made a lot clearer," she said.

Other brands penalised for making misleading claims include Luv-a-Duck, which has been accused of deceptive conduct by claiming its ducks are ‘grown and grain fed in the spacious Victorian Wimmera Wheatlands’, when it's been found the animals didn't have substantial access to outdoors.

Fellow duck producer, Pepe's, was fined $40,000 late last year for misleading its consumers and was told it may no longer use the slogan 'grown nature’s way' or 'open range' on its packaging or in its marketing.

Its logo of an 'open range' duck walking towards a lake must also not be used for a period of three years unless it is accompanied by the phrase 'barn raised.'

 

Why market forces don’t protect animal welfare

 

The actions of animal protection activists have sent reverberations throughout Australia’s livestock industries in recent times. Revelations of animal cruelty in local processing and the live export trade have led to the forced closure of abattoirs, the filing of criminal charges, trade suspensions, and new regulation. Some think market forces will be enough to bring about change, but I would argue that productivity and animal welfare are not always compatible.

In his opinion piece, “Why capitalism raises an animal’s spirits” published in the Australian recently, journalist Nick Cater takes aim at the “animal vigilantes” who took video footage inside an intensive pig farm near Young, NSW. An eight minute clip depicting row after row of squealing pigs confined to small concrete stalls was later posted on Youtube.

 

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Cater argues market forces alone can prevent animal suffering. According to Cater this is because a producer has an economic incentive to protect animal welfare – “a happy pig equals profits”. This argument is commonly heard from representatives of the livestock industries and repeated by politicians. It is for this reason it should not go unchallenged.

Modern animal welfare science has gone beyond measuring welfare solely by reference to physical attributes and mortality rates. Cater’s claim that in “the absence of reliable porcine attitude surveys, we can only go by the empirical evidence of health and death rates”, underscores his ignorance.

Physiological functioning, brain state, behaviour, physical condition, performance and even an animal’s feelings are now all recognised as key factors in assessing an animal’s welfare.

It is possible to have a physically healthy productive animal that is in a poor state of welfare due to, for instance, psychological stress. If this is so, there is little economic incentive for a farmer to provide improved welfare, especially if doing so increases costs.

Indeed, the economic literature shows animal welfare and productivity are in conflict. Under an economic model, productivity is prioritised and animal suffering is treated as a market “externality”. Market signals will generally cause welfare standards to fall below community expectations.

Examples are not hard to find. Battery cages and sow stalls are known to have negative impacts on welfare yet they are designed to achieve productivity gains. Another obvious example can be found in the use of routine surgical procedures such as debeaking, tail-docking, dehorning, mulesing, castration and even the spaying of cattle. These procedures are performed without the administration of pain relief to keep costs down.

Welfare protection and productivity can coexist in well-managed, free-range farming systems, but as the size and intensity of production increases, welfare begins to decline.

 

The assessment of animal welfare has moved beyond just physical measures. Flickr/Cyron

 

The argument that animal welfare and productivity are two sides of the same coin is also completely out of step with growing community concerns. Cater’s defence of “factory farmers” on the grounds that they are not “by and large, tormenters who derive a sadistic thrill from watching dumb animals suffer” completely misses the point. The broader community does not equate animal welfare with simply keeping animals alive or sparing them from overt acts of cruelty. They expect more. There is now a growing demand to see farm animals treated in a manner that recognises their “intrinsic value” as sentient beings, and provides them with a “life worth living.”

No doubt Cater would dismiss this as a preoccupation of urban latte sippers, devoid of any experience with “the gritty reality of farming”. But it is precisely this dismissive mentality that is now causing Australia’s livestock industries serious headaches. “Values-based consumerism” is spreading throughout the Western world and may expand with the growing middle classes of Brazil, India, Russia and China.

Livestock industries must strive to get ahead of these trends, not to fight them. Calls for US-styled “ag gag” laws in Australia to criminalise unauthorised filming and photographs in agricultural facilities are nonsensical and counterproductive. Such laws have been described by leading animal welfare scientist and meat industry consultant Temple Grandin as the “Stupidest thing that ag ever did.” By restricting the rights of whistleblowers, activists, and journalists to expose illegal and sometimes legal husbandry practises, they increase negative publicity and only fuel public curiosity over what happens to animals on factory farms.

Producers who are in touch with their customers will internalise the costs of higher welfare standards and convey this product feature to consumers. By rejecting the archaic conceptions of animal welfare espoused by Cater, they will be well placed to capitalise on values-based consumer demands in the coming years. It is only when animal industries adopt this business model that there can ever be any truth to the proposition: “capitalism raises an animal’s spirits”.

Jed Goodfellow receives funding from a Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship. He works for RSPCA Australia on a part-time basis.

Peter Radan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Australian Pork hits back at animal activists [video]

Australian Pork has released a video questioning the intentions of animal activists and shedding light on its own animal welfare standards.

Following recent scrutiny of the Australian food manufacturing's animal welfare standards (think Inghams, Pepe's Ducks, Luv-a-Duck, the live exports saga and Animals Australia's controversial bag campaign), the organisation supporting Australian pork producers has turned the tables on animal activists, questioning their commitment to animal welfare.

It's released a video, set inside a pig farm, which runs through how pigs are housed and treated at many Australian pork production facilities. It claims Australia boasts "some of the best pig raising standards in the world."

Titled Aussie Pig Farmers: Nothing to Hide, it shows an image of a baby in a cot, captioned with "Sometimes things designed for safety can appear cruel to the uninitiated."

A pork producer then runs through the fundamental elements of a farrowing crate, explaining that the sow has access to grain and water as well as a heater for feeding piglets and an added safety element which helps ensure piglets aren't accidentally crushed if the sow rolls onto them.

The video also makes some bold statements about animal activists, not only questioning their intentions but implying their conduct is often unethical and even illegal.

"Animal activists break into a farm, trespass and terrorise pigs at night," the video states. "They break strict biosecurity protocols, putting the animals' health and wellbeing at risk.

"If activists were serious about animal welfare they would work with industry."

This echoes a sentiment raised by farmers after supermarket giant Coles recently teamed up with activist group, Animals Australia, agreeing to sell their Make It Possible reusable bags in-store. Coles and Animals Australia were hit with such intense criticism from the industry that Animals Australia eventually asked Coles to withdraws the bags.

"It is a dark day for animal welfare in this country when a retailer’s support for an animal welfare initiative is vehemently opposed by the farming lobby," Animals Australia campaign director, Lyn White, said at the time.

The video concludes with the pork producer sharing his concerns about the future of the industry, should animal activists continue to threaten their livelihood.

"If Aussie farmers were shut down in producing Aussie pork, then where are we going to get our pork from?" he asks.

"If we can't produce pork in God's country, then God knows where we're going to get it from."

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