Packaging solutions for the meat & poultry industries

Signode has 40 years’ experience in supplying innovative, fast, hygienic and reliable strapping machines to the meat and poultry industries. The company’s packaging equipment is manufactured and designed to improve businesses’ bottom lines.

Signode manufactures load containment and protective packaging systems that have been engineered to specific applications; systems that protect products, streamline production and improve profits.

The company knows the meat and poultry industry and understands that, for businesses operating in this sector, the hygiene imperative extends beyond their actual products. By law, for example, packaging machinery used in this sector must be made (internally and externally) with stainless steel.

On top of this important consideration, much like any manufacturer, these businesses are looking for packaging machinery that delivers them speed, accuracy and reliability, while minimising downtime. They want machines that will cut their labour costs and provide good returns on investment.

Signode has become a one stop shop for its customers’ strapping and wrapping needs. The company’s extensive range of equipment, strapping and consumables, backed up with onsite national service and parts supply, suit any application no matter how challenging or demanding.

Strapping machines

Signode makes stainless steel strapping machines to suit low to high volume users, who perform a range of applications and have varying budgets. The company offers everything from entry level semi-automatic machines, right up to fully automated inline strapping machines that can apply as many as 65 straps per minute.

The Signode MST (Pictured above), a semi-automatic, low-cost option for low to moderate volume strapping applications is ready to use in minutes. The machine features an easy-touch LED display control panel and electronic tension adjustment up to 50kg. Available with a full stainless steel body, it also comes with safety switches on each door (including the tabletop cover).

The next step up in terms of speed is the Predator 12 Stainless Steel Automatic (pictured below). An automatic strapping machine manufactured with safety in mind, it is suitable for use in the corrosive environments found in food and meat processing industries, and can apply up to 30 straps per minute.

Features of the Predator 12 Stainless Steel include safety switches on all doors, automatic strap loading, and electronic tension adjustment up to 70kg. It also has an automatic strap eject feature for coil changes and it operates in three modes – manual, tabletop sensor and foot pedal.

Any mis-fed straps are easily and quickly corrected with the Signode Predator’s automatic cut and re-feed feature.

Then there is the top-of-the-line strapping machine, the MOD GPX, which can apply up to 65 straps per minute. Available in automatic and fully automatic inline options, this machine features an entirely modular design that provides unparalleled flexibility and longevity for general purpose strapping machines. Each module can be quickly replaced by operators for desired upgrades or maintenance without disrupting production.

Available in stainless steel for hand presented cartons or fully automated applications, the MOD GPX is ideal for cold, damp environments where corrosion resistance is necessary.

Further features include safety switches, adjustable strap tension up to 90kg, and self-diagnostics.

Given the importance of food safety and the increasing prevalence of food fraud, it is important for food and poultry producers to be able to clearly identify their products.

This imperative makes strapping – rather than say taping or gluing – of boxes a wise choice for these businesses. Signode offers printed strap to compliment export users to identify products for security purposes. This type of identification is particularly valuable for exporters who need to identify themselves in the global supply chain.

Nation-wide support & services

Signode offers more than just quality products. The company’s service, maintenance, engineering and spare parts support help achieve year-on-year uptime for businesses and ultimately reduce their cost of ownership on their machinery.

Before any sales take place, the company works with clients to choose the best machinery for each job. It also conducts audits in order to identify, and then fix operational bottlenecks.

In terms of after sales support, Signode keeps standard equipment in stock to cover maintenance requests and also offers training to enable businesses to fix their own machines, as well as safety training. Service agreements along with preventative maintenance help ensure mechanical issues are fixed before they result in costly downtime.

While the company offers over-the-phone technical support, it realises that this cannot be relied upon in all circumstances. Its field sales and service representation is nation-wide. Importantly, this means that customers in regional areas of Australia are not left out of the service equation.

The company offers flexible buying options for all strapping machines, meaning that customers can either buy outright or take advantage of a rental program.

The Signode package allows customers the peace of mind that they are using safe, reliable, fast, new equipment technology available in full stainless steel or painted finish.

The Predator 12 Stainless Steel Automatic can apply up to 30 straps per minute.
The Predator 12 Stainless Steel Automatic can apply up to 30 straps per minute.

 

Baiada improves practices following wages scandal

Poultry processor Baiada Group has improved its workplace practices since last year’s findings of employee exploitation, according to a report by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman last year examined the employment practices of contractors engaged at the company’s processing sites in NSW, and found exploitation of overseas workers by contractors and very poor, or no governance arrangements, by the company relating to the various labour supply chains.

A report published today details the progress the company has made in improving compliance with workplace laws at its sites as a result of entering into a Compliance Partnership with the Fair Work Ombudsman just over a year ago.

The Compliance Partnership involved Baiada last year publicly declaring it had a “moral and ethical” responsibility to join with the Fair Work Ombudsman to eliminate the exploitation of vulnerable workers by contractors at its sites.

Today’s report notes the important systems reforms Baiada has undertaken to ensure it knows who is working on its sites, and that they have been paid correctly. Baiada has also ensured workers previously underpaid have been able to claim backpay and, where a contractor has not rectified an underpayment, Baiada has taken responsibility and paid-up.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that while good progress has been made, the real test is the sustainability of changes over the life of the Proactive Compliance Deed and whether the culture has shifted to one of compliance throughout Baiada’s labour supply chain and across all its sites.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman will continue to work with Baiada and monitor compliance in this regard to ensure the progress continues to embed compliant practices throughout its labour supply chain and will once again report on progress in a year’s time,” she said.

Baiada Managing Director Simon Camilleri said the Proactive Compliance Partnership is a core priority for the company and has changed the way Baiada manages and operates its contract labour providers.

We have implemented significant reforms across our business to ensure contractors’ employees at our sites are being treated fairly and lawfully by their employer,” Mr Camilleri said.

“Baiada now has a stringent contractor compliance system that is rigorously enforced across all its processing sites.

“This includes Baiada taking responsibility for paying all contractors’ employees directly so they are protected from potential underpayment.”

 

Lenard’s new Christmas turkey range

Lenard’s has introduced a range of festive stuffing flavours and ready-to-cook products in a deliberate move to take the hassle out of Christmas.

With the intention of increasing quality family time on Christmas Day, the company has facilitated the Christmas feast prep with ready-to-cook turkey products in signature stuffing flavours that do not contain gluten such as Fig Caramelised Onion and Bacon, Cranberry and Macadamia, and Traditional Herb.

In addition, the company will now offer three whole turkey sizes – small (serves 8-10), medium (serves 12-14) and large (serves 16-18) as well as a valued-added festive chicken range – providing an option for every kind of celebration.

Lenard’s Chicken CEO, Chris Caldwell said the company was always looking for ways to evolve its extensive range of fresh, value-add and ready-to-eat products and was excited to unveil the new range set to free-up time with loved ones.

“We fully understand Christmas can be a taxing time of year for many individuals and families which is why we’re committed to making it easier for customers to source high quality, flavoursome products while taking into account the rising number of Australians with allergies,” Caldwell said.

 

WA poultry processor goes under

A family-owned poultry processing business in Western Australia has been placed into the hands of administrators and its 30-plus employees have lost their jobs.

The West Australian reports that Flown Pty Ltd, which operates a poultry processing plant and a retail outlet in Wanneroo, was placed into the hands of administrators Simon Theobald and Melissa Humann from PPB Advisory on Friday.

Only last year, Flown itself bought a failed Wanneroo poultry wholesaler, the Meat & Poultry Company and Drovers Pastoral Company from liquidators.

Flown, which employed eight full-time and 23 part-time workers, ceased trading when the announcement was made on Friday.

Technology boosting poultry processing efficiency

Advanced technology and sustainability initiatives are key drivers in ensuring that poultry processing in Australia continues to be a significant growth industry into the future, writes Hartley Henderson.

Australian chicken meat production is forecast to increase by 3 per cent to 1.16 million tonnes by 2015-16 and is projected to reach 1.36 million tonnes by 2020-21.

According to Ingham’s Director of Operations Excellence, Quinton Hildebrand, the company has implemented a substantial capital investment program over the past 12 to 18 months aimed at greater efficiencies, increased food safety, and substantially increased processing capacity.

“This investment has focussed on our two largest primary processing plants in Murrarie, Queensland and Bolivar, South Australia,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“Increased automation in the primary processing plant allows Ingham’s to increase its volume of production significantly with limited additional requirements of space on the shop floor and of skilled labour. The strong growth of our business allows the workforce to be redeployed within our operation.”

Hildebrand explained that the main strategy is to reduce the company’s dependency on manual deboning, the process where the various parts are removed from the carcase and bones and skin removed.

“Another aspect is computer controlled portion cutting which ensures not only exact portions but also optimises the use of the available product. Finally, improvements in the palletising and handling of the product streamline the process and increase efficiencies,” he said.

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Michelle Daniel is Hazeldenes’ General Manager – Marketing.

Ingham’s has also developed a comprehensive and integrated sustainability strategy centred around water stewardship, environmental management, energy and climate change, zero waste, and corporate citizenship.

According to Group Head of Business Sustainability Julia Seddon, sustainability is a focus for the organisation and a key business objective, which helps to identify business improvements and potential efficiencies.

“Recent sustainability initiatives include a climate resilience assessment which is being used by the NSW government as a template for other organisations to assess their climate change risks. In addition, we have ongoing participation in a collaborative supply chain Life Cycle Analysis program with a major customer, and have employed a full time energy manager,” she told Food & Beverage Industry News.

Seddon pointed out that the primary processing of poultry requires large volumes of water to ensure clean, safe food production.

“Increased consumer demand for poultry products, combined with one of the worst droughts ever experienced in south east Queensland, created a need for innovation at our Murarrie site in Brisbane,” she explained.

“The site had already reduced water use by around 20 per cent through improved measurement, monitoring, water saving projects, and increased employee awareness, but further reduction required a significant shift in thinking.

“Inghams recognised the need for action and invested in an advanced water treatment plant. The groundbreaking application of advanced water treatment technology has reduced reliance on mains water supply by 70 per cent and decoupled company growth from water scarcity.

“This significant reduction in water use represents world’s best practice in water use management and is the first time such technology has been used to treat wastewater from a poultry processing plant anywhere in the world to substitute for potable water.”

Price war

Commenting on key trends in the industry, Hazeldene’s General Manager Marketing, Michelle Daniel, points to a growing trend for the big supermarkets to tend towards private label brands instead of producer brands.

“With poultry becoming a vast commodity, driven largely by price, this presents an opportunity for smaller supermarkets and niche players to differentiate with brands. The price war on chicken that commenced in October 2015 has driven more volume into the big supermarkets, and from a production perspective, the supermarkets are looking for better buying at higher volumes,” she told Food & Beverage industry News.

“This works well for bigger players that can take advantage of pushing larger volumes through, but is more challenging for smaller players.

“In terms of range of products, there are really three levels of poultry differentiation in Australia: traditionally produced poultry, RSPCA  Accredited, and Free Range Accredited.

“These flock types will continue but differentiation in the future may look to topics more broadly than welfare, like the exclusion of antibiotics, or antibiotic growth promotants, and the chemicals used in chicken production. Value added products will continue to develop as well as many flavours on trend being adopted in poultry products.”

Daniel said that from a primary production perspective, the newest technologies in the world include controlled atmospheric stunning, evisceration equipment, aeroscalding, and air chilling.

“Controlled atmospheric stunning is a method of slaughter that is one of the most humane in the world, and endorsed by the RSPCA. Birds are kept very calm and put to sleep using different levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and then slaughtered unconscious,” she explained.

“Evisceration equipment leads the way in effectiveness and safety. Machines are very well guarded, and inspection points are in different rooms to machinery, meaning the interactions between employees and machines are minimised.

“Traditionally, Australian producers use an ‘immersion scalding method’ prior to plucking, but newest technology adopts Aeroscalding which keeps birds on the chain, and they go through a room that is filled with clean, hot, steamy, mist that comes out of  jets, hits the skin of the bird, and opens up the pores to allow easy plucking. Benefits include much lower microbiological load on the carcass through reduced cross contamination that immersion scalding causes, as well as using less water, and retaining all skin layers.

“Air chilling technology has been around for quite a long time but adoption in the Australian industry is low compared with water chilling. Air chilling reduces the water retention in birds which extends shelf life, and customers get more protein, less water and a better tasting meat.”

Daniel advised that Hazeldene’s is an early adopter of new technology and innovation. The company commissioned air chilling in 2006 and a new primary processing facility in 2012, which includes controlled atmospheric stunning, new evisceration technology, and aeroscalding.

“The new primary processing facility allowed us to reduce employee levels, while increasing production, and make the roles in that area safer and more sustainable. We will be looking for more productivity enhancements and efficiencies with further capital plans in the future that focus on the packaging end of our business,” she said.

“The biggest issue we face is competitive forces in the market driving the prices down to unsustainable levels for a quality focussed player. Chicken has become so commoditised that quality can lose its message and relevance when price is the key driver. It is up to us to find quality focussed markets, and continue to differentiate on quality.”

 

EPA fines Baiada Poultry

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd (Baiada) $15,000 after an unauthorised and uncontrolled discharge of waste from its poultry abattoir premises at Out Street, Tamworth on 20 August 2015.

The EPA investigated after Baiada self-reported the spill to the EPA’s Environment Line.

The EPA’s Acting Director North Branch, Brett Nudd, said the spill had been caused by multiple equipment failures in the site’s first flush collection system, which is designed to divert pollutants from the abattoir yard to an on-site waste water treatment system.

“A pump failure resulted in wastewater overflowing from the first flush system into an offsite stormwater drain,” he said.

“The high water level alarm also failed as a result of low voltage in the battery, which had not charged efficiently,” Nudd said.

Nudd said that the incident would have been prevented if scheduled maintenance had been carried out as planned.

“Baiada were due to carry out maintenance on its first flush collection system in May 2015 – this did not occur due to a lack of suitably trained staff.”

“Maintenance has previously been identified as an issue for concern at Baiada’s Out Street premises.”

The incident contravened the conditions of Baiada’s Environment Protection Licence which is an offence under section 64 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act).

“Baiada are responsible for carrying out licensed activities in a competent manner as well as maintaining and operating all equipment at the premises in a proper and efficient manner,” Nudd said.

“While there was no evidence of environmental harm as a result of this incident, it’s vital that companies effectively maintain their equipment and premises to avoid putting the environment and local communities at risk.”

“To their credit Baiada took prompt, appropriate clean up and preventative action in response to the incident and have put considerable funds into rectifying issues with the first flush system on site.”

 

Ingham Australia expansion to bring 850 new jobs to SA

Chicken producer Ingham Australia has announced a huge $275 million expansion of its South Australian business which will bring 850 new jobs to the state.

As the Weekly Times reports, the new jobs are expected to include 385 direct positions with Ingham, and 465 jobs with private contractors. On top of that, the construction phase of the expansion will bring 700 jobs to SA.

The expansion, which will double the company’s capacity, will take in 15 separate sites including Bolivar, Edinburgh Parks, Yumali, Murray Bridge and Dry Creek in Adelaide’s north.

As the ABC reports, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill welcomed the news

“Food production is a growing sector of our state’s economy and we are supplying the business conditions that make investing here a wise choice,” he said.

“This expansion will create hundreds of new direct and indirect jobs for South Australians with a focus on two key areas — northern Adelaide and the Murraylands.”

The Government is chipping in $3.7 million to the project. This includes $2.8 million from the Regional Development Fund and $900,000 from Investment Attraction South Australia.

According to AAP, Ingham chief executive Mick McMahon pointed out that workers who will lose their jobs following the upcoming closure of Holden’s plant in Elizabeth will be well placed to find work with Inghams.

“Car industry manufacturing skills are very relevant to our processing plants and some of our best and most productive employees have in fact had good training in the car industry,” McMahon said.

“Our plant manager at Bolivar has come from Holden, as one example. Many of the jobs will be processing, they’ll be trades in the plant.”

Chicken processing plant fined $30,000 for waste overflow

Chicken processing plant Supreme Poultry and Chickens has been issued a $30,000 fine by the NSW EPA for having overflowing effluent ponds at its Mangrove Mountain premises.

The EPA inspected the premises on 14 January 2016 and observed that the effluent ponds were full and overflowing, the irrigation areas were not managed in a competent manner, and parts of the waste water management system were not operating adequately.

EPA Hunter Manager, Adam Gilligan, said the EPA considers the multiple breaches to be serious, and the latest evidence of the company’s failure to comply with environmental requirements at its various premises.

“These latest non-compliances follow the February 2016 fines for non-compliance at Supreme Poultry’s Shanes Park (Sydney) premises,” Gilligan said.

“The EPA has informed Supreme Poultry that it requires full compliance with all EPL conditions at all times and that significant fines and criminal penalties can be issued for non-compliance with license conditions.

“The EPA has advised Supreme Poultry that any further contraventions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 may result in the instigation of legal proceedings.”

 

Image: Daily Telegraph

More than 40 hospitalised after chlorine exposure

A suspected faulty water pipe led to more than 40 workers from the Baiada Poultry factory in Beresfield being hospitalised on Monday after they were exposed to chlorine dioxide.

The Environmental Protection Authority, the meat packers union and Baiada have all launched investigations into the cause of the exposure, believed to have occurred after a fault with the system used to keep the factory’s assembly line clean.

It is understood to have caused workers to be sprayed with the chlorine solution, leading to complaints of nausea, irritated throats and eyes, and breathing difficulties.

More than 200 employees at the factory were evacuated at about 8.30am after workers reacted to the chemical, and 43 were transported to three hospitals across the Hunter.

Paramedics and Fire and Rescue both attended the factory, treating a number of workers at the site.

Inspector Brett Crotty from Fire and Rescue NSW said the cause of the exposure was a “chlorine solution used to disinfect the assembly line and keep everything clean”.

“There’s one tank with chlorine, and one tank with water, they both go through a pipe and mix together to dilute the chlorine, then they’re sprayed over the assembly line,” he said.

“There has been either a blockage or a fault in the water tank [which has] meant that chlorine has sprayed out over the assembly line.

“It wouldn’t have been for a long time, you know pretty quick if you come into contact with a straight disinfectant.”

Baiada could not confirm how many staff were affected or what had caused the malfunction, a spokesman saying that staff were being “monitored”.

“Our concern is for the well-being of our staff, and we will be conducting a thorough investigation of the cause of the leak,” the spokesman said.

“In the coming days we will be able to provide more information on what has occurred.”

Unaffected staff returned to work after the site was declared safe.

The Environmental Protection Authority visited the site after the evacuation, and has since requested a detailed incident report from Baiada as part of its investigation into the incident.

A spokesperson confirmed that chlorine dioxide was the chemical that leaked at the Beresfield plant.

“Once the site was declared safe by NSW Fire and Rescue HAZMAT crews, EPA officers carried out an inspection of the premises to determine the extent of environmental impacts,” the spokesperson said.

“No offsite impacts were identified.”

Hunter New England Health said all 43 workers, who were taken to Calvary Mater, Maitland and John Hunter hospitals, were in a stable condition.

By about 4.30pm 33 of them were still hospitalised.

A spokeswoman for health saying their status was being “reviewed” and could not confirm whether any would stay overnight.

Neighbours said they did not hear an alarm prior to the evacuation and were not notified by anyone from Baiada of the chemical leak, which is being investigated by the Environment Protection Authority.

On Monday afternoon, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union said that its officers were also on site “investigating the incident”.

Grant Courtney from the union said union officers had been at the site on Monday, and would conduct interviews with staff on Tuesday.

“We’ll be speaking with them to find out firsthand what happened,” Mr Courtney said.

“At the moment our concern is our member’s health.”

He said the union had been unable to confirm a number of details from the company, including how many people had been hospitalised.

“All they have said is that they have complied with their health and safety obligations, but we’ll be conducting our own investigations,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation, chlorine dioxide can be used as a disinfectant agent or for treating water.

It exists as a gas at room temperature but can become explosive when its concentration in the air is greater than 10 per cent.

City fringes locked in battles over broiler farms

Once upon a time, chicken was a luxury few could regularly afford. It was a rare meal reserved for special occasions. Yet since 1965 the per-capita annual consumption of chicken meat in Australia has increased ten-fold from 4.6 kilograms per person in 1965 to 44.6 kilograms in 2012.

The retail price of chicken per kilogram has decreased steadily in real terms from around A$9.67 in 1986 to A$5.67 in 2009. The arrival of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Australia in 1968coincided with rapid increases in consumption. Today, Australians consume more than 600 million chickens per year.

The vast majority is produced in intensive “broiler” farms. How does chicken production and consumption on such a scale affect the foodbowls on the outskirts of our cities?

Australians consume over 600 million chickens each year, with the price of chicken having fallen steadily since the 1960s. Andrew Butt

Intensive chicken farms need to be within about one hour of processing sites. Farms also need to be close to feed supplies and hatcheries, as they are run as highly integrated systems.

Partly because of this, the chicken meat industry in Victoria is concentrated within about 200 kilometres of Melbourne. Similar patterns occur in other Australian regions.

As the industry has sought efficiencies of scale, the size of farms has increased. Whereas farms of the 1970s might have housed 10,000 chickens, they now routinely hold 80,000 to more than one million chickens, producing five batches of chickens per year. Yet as producers have grown, the numbers of suitable urban fringe spaces – close enough to processing plants, but far enough from neighbours and sensitive land uses – are dwindling.

One reason is the growth in popularity of peri-urban areas to live in. “Counter-urbanisation” or “tree-changing” has been underway since the 1970s. Whether in Germany, the US or the Netherlands, it seems rural and peri-urban residents have little desire to live near a “monster chicken factory”.

In a recent paper we analysed 59 planning appeals related to broiler farms in Victoria between 1969 and 2013. Concerns about the farms have included odour, noise, dust, vermin, truck traffic, impacts on tourism, and water use and pollution.

Broiler farm planning disputes appear to channel more intractable issues than odour control. It is possible that, on some level, having one million chickens not smell is unsettling in its own way.

As more chicken meat is produced, and in ever more technologically intensive ways, conflicts over farm applications inevitably unlock community disquiet about factory farming. The allowable forum for legitimate opposition, however, is narrow.

Intensive farming is often simply inconsistent with community expectations. The “unknowns” of industrialised agriculture are normally hidden from view in bucolic images on food packaging, and in the marketing of rural real estate as a “lifestyle” choice. Responses to the reality of broiler proposals – however technically well planned – sometimes seem rooted in the loss of this comforting, romanticised view.

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In Victoria, the solution has been to regulate away the noise, smell and dust of a farm, mandate separation distances and even set aside areas with clear “rights to farm” and those with rights to “the good life”. The recent announcement of an inquiry in Victoria into the industry has a strong focus on resolving conflicts through siting and separation.

Yet the use of such an approach in Victoria has raised concerns about creating “sterilised” regions where no uses but industrial farms are permitted. Opponents to industrial farms also express concerns that proponents exploit loopholes and that a codified buffer distance privileges intensive farms rather than resolving conflicting land use issues.

On the other hand, less control arguably generates more conflict, as in parts of Canada and Texas. There, industrial, corporate-run farming operations dominate vast, generally lower socioeconomic areas. But as farms expand, divisive neighbourhood battles are still fought out.

Our research indicates that the use of buffer spaces around farms, guidelines and rights can achieve only so much. Despite the presence of clear guidelines, a recent proposal for a 1.2 million-bird farm in Baringhup, near Castlemaine, has led to more than two years of planning dispute and may result in Supreme Court action.

Conflicts between opponents and proponents of intensive farming will continue in rural areas. Fanning the flames is the growing demand for low-priced chicken (and an ongoing chicken nugget price “war”).

Local governments and decision-makers in Australia remain under-resourced to deal with opposition to the increasing scale of broiler farms. By advocating for a new understanding of what a rural and an urban area “means”, planning is at the coal face for negotiating politically acceptable outcomes to such conflicts. Yet a look at the images used to market farm products reveals what an uphill struggle this is.

Elizabeth Taylor is Vice Chancellor's Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, RMIT University.

Andrew Butt is Senior Lecturer in Community Planning and Development, La Trobe University.

Marco Amati is Associate Professor of International Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University.

 

This article first appeared in The Conversation.

The Conversation

 

Pig and poultry welfare research receives $1 million grant

A $1 million grant from the South Australian government will go towards expanding the animal welfare research facilities at the University of Adelaide's Roseworthy campus.

Roseworthy is home to one of Australia's leading free-range pig and poultry research facilities, as well as the headquarters of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre.

The grant comes during renewed scrutiny in to pig farming practices, including the use of sow stalls or 'gestation crates'. The practice is being banned in certain states and consumer demand is driving better welfare practices for farmed animals.

The money will be used to develop a remote animal behaviour monitoring system, an improved climate control system, and upgrades of the free-range poultry facility.

Professor Wayne Hein, Dean of Roseworthy campus, welcomed the grant.

“We have an outstanding collaborative hub at Roseworthy with some of the best animal science researchers in the country working at this site,” Professor Hein said.

“Roseworthy is also the headquarters of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre. The strong alignment with the CRC on campus means that industry engagement in the research undertaken on the campus is seamless and beneficial to all parties.

“This funding will help establish the highest standards of animal welfare in animal production systems.”

 

Baiada Group busted by Fair Work Ombudsman

The Fair Work Ombudsman today released the findings of its Inquiry into allegations levelled at the Baiada Group over employment practices at its three poultry processing sites at Beresfield, Hanwood and Tamworth in NSW.

The Inquiry found exploitation of a labour pool comprised predominantly of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa. Exploitation included significant underpayments, extremely long hours of work, high rents for overcrowded and unsafe worker accommodation, discrimination and misclassification of employees as contractors.

It also found non-compliance with a range of Commonwealth workplace laws and very poor, or no governance arrangements, by all parties in the various labour supply chains,

An Inquiry was launched in November, 2013, following complaints from plant workers that they were being underpaid, forced to work extremely long hours and required to pay high rents for overcrowded and unsafe employee accommodation.

Baiada is the largest Australian-owned poultry processing company and has a market share of more than 20 per cent. It produces the Lilydale Select and Steggles chicken brands for customers including Coles, Woolworths, IGA, Aldi, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Red Rooster, Nando’s and Subway.

Baiada refused permission for Fair Work inspectors working on this Inquiry to access the factory floor at its worksites, denying them an opportunity to observe work practices, as well as talk to employees about conditions, policies and procedures.

Baiada also failed to provide the Inquiry with any “significant or meaningful” documentation on the nature and terms of its labour contract arrangements.

However, the Inquiry found that employees working at Baiada sites are not being paid their lawful entitlements.

The company had verbal agreements with an extensive list of labour-hire operators used to source most of its workers, largely 417 working holiday visa-holders from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Baiada’s labour-hire contractors were unwilling to engage with the Inquiry and produced inadequate, inaccurate and/or fabricated records to Inspectors.

Based on limited material provided, hundreds of thousands of dollars could not be accounted for as money moved through various hands down the company’s labour supply chain.

As at October, 2013, information provided by Baiada indicated that it had verbal agreements to source labour with six principal contractors; B & E Poultry Holdings Pty Ltd, Mushland Pty Ltd, JL Poultry Pty Ltd, VNJ Foods Pty Ltd, Evergreenlee Pty Ltd and Pham Poultry (AUS) Pty Ltd.

Baiada paid these principal contractors per kilogram of poultry processed, rather than hours worked – in other words, irrespective of night shifts, weekends or public holidays.

The six principal contractors in turn sub-contracted to at least seven other second-tier entities, some of whom further sub-contracted down a further two or three tiers, involving up to 34 separate entities in total.

There were no written agreements and the model relied on high levels of trust.

During the course of the Inquiry, four of the six principal contractors and 17 other sub-contractors ceased trading.

One day before the director of two companies was due to meet Fair Work inspectors, he sent an email advising that his two entities were being liquidated. The matter is being referred to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

Over the course of the Baiada Inquiry, Fair Work inspectors made numerous site visits to registered addresses of the various contractors, as well as attempting to make contact by email, fax and phone using both bilingual staff and interpreters.

The Inquiry found that a large amount of work was performed “off the books”, as amounts paid to contractors did not correspond with the number of workers and wages allegedly paid to them.

The overseas workers were primarily recruited by sub-contractors through Chinese newspapers, Facebook or Taiwanese backpacker websites.

The advertisements frequently asked applicants to respond with details of their nationality, height and weight and were potentially discriminatory.

First-hand accounts from some of the workers at the plants were obtained by bilingual Fair Work inspectors who travelled to Beresfield and Hanwood, and community opinions and experiences were obtained through a series of co-ordinated “listening posts”.

Workers at Beresfield reported that they would not get any work unless they rented accommodation from the labour hire contractor, and rent was allegedly unlawfully deducted from their pay.

One property, found to be sleeping 21 people, was purchased in March, 2012, for $370,000 as a rental accommodation. Based on 20 people paying $100 a week each, it has a potential rental income of over $100,000 a year.

Most of the workers at the Hanwood site were managed by Choy Pty Ltd, which de-registered during the course of the Inquiry.

Choy’s director, Sokhan Sin, is now engaged by other contractors to manage workers at the plant, including overseas workers.

Investigations continue into allegations that Mr Sin directs employees to work very long hours, such as 5.30am to 11pm.

The Inquiry’s findings on each of Baiada’s six principal labour-hire contractors:

B&E Poultry Holdings Pty Ltd

In February this year, two Taiwanese 417 working holiday visa-holders contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman alleging they had worked up to 17 hours a day for three days at Baiada’s Beresfield plant for no wages.

At the time, the minimum wage in Taiwan was equivalent to $A4.95 an hour compared to the Australian national minimum wage of $16.87, plus penalties where applicable.

When Fair Work inspectors contacted B&E Poultry – the principal contractor named on their factory ID card – they were told the workers were engaged by a supervisor contracting to one of its sub-contractors in a personal capacity, and were unable to provide any details about the employer.

However, B&E agreed to resolve the matter by paying the workers at the Award rate.

B&E Poultry did not directly engage any employees at the three Baiada sites – but does employ staff at its own processing factories at Ormeau, in Queensland and Blacktown, in NSW.

Last year, after the Fair Work Ombudsman had received requests for assistance from B&E employees resulting in back-payments of more than $100,000, the Agency required the company to enter into an Enforceable Undertaking to ensure its ongoing compliance with federal workplace laws.

Mushland Pty Ltd

The company failed to disclose information specifically requested by the Inquiry and subsequently the phones of both the company director and its accountant were disconnected.

Baiada was unable to provide any further contact details for Fair Work inspectors.

However, analysis of the limited information which was provided, including invoices and pay records, shows that Baiada paid Mushland $255,415.07 for the month of October, 2013.

Mushland in turn paid $52,460.85 in wages to 18 employees for the same period, leaving a total of $202,954.22 unaccounted for – even though 11 of the workers had been underpaid more than $3300.

Mushland de-registered in July, 2014, and workers were reluctant to act as witnesses for the Fair Work Ombudsman.

JL Poultry Pty Ltd

JL Poultry refused to provide the Inquiry with an accurate contact address.

Fair Work inspectors made two site visits to the registered address, only to be told the director was not known and was not located there.

Written correspondence could only be directed to JL Poultry after a Notice to Produce was served on its financial institution, which provided further contact details.

It took the company seven months to provide Fair Work inspectors with records.

The records revealed that in over one two-week period, Baiada had paid JL Poultry $139,080.37.

However, JL Poultry had only paid wages to nine employees totalling $8746.80, leaving a margin of $130,333.57 unaccounted for.

The Fair Work Ombudsman issued JL Poultry with an on-the-spot fine and Letter of Caution in relation to record-keeping breaches, but the company was de-registered in December last year.

JL Poultry advised that its contract with Baiada had been cancelled.

VNJ Foods Pty Ltd

The Inquiry identified that VNJ Foods Pty Ltd directly engaged only one employee.

Records obtained by Fair Work inspectors show that VNJ made cash payments of up to $150,000 a week to a sub-contractor, Clearview LG Pty Ltd.

Despite repeated site visits, telephone calls and email contact, Clearview failed to provide any records or engage with the Inquiry.

VNJ Foods entered into voluntary liquidation during the Inquiry.

Evergreenlee Pty Ltd

Evergreenlee did not engage any employees directly.

Rather, it sub-contracted to two other companies with one common director – CCKY Pty Ltd and WL Jian Pty Ltd, which engaged 19 and 33 employees respectively.

CCKY ceased operating in June last year.

The Inquiry found WL Jian Pty Ltd failed to keep time and wage records as required by federal workplace laws and issued the company with two on-the-spot fines and a Letter of Caution.

Pham Poultry (AUS) Pty Ltd

The Fair Work Ombudsman ran a separate, parallel inquiry into Pham Poultry after receiving requests for help from more than a dozen employees at Beresfield.

Pham Poultry sub-contracted to four other companies, including FoxInt Pty Ltd, whose director Quoc Hung Pham, was also a director of the principal contractor.

Despite Baiada paying Pham Poultry $1.078 million for the month of October, 2013, FoxInt was paying its workers as little as $11.50 an hour for shifts up to 19 hours a day.

Up to 30 workers were housed in a six-bedroom house with only two bathrooms for which they were required to pay $100 a week.

The Fair Work Ombudsman could not locate Quoc Hung Pham, but the second director of Pham Poultry, Binh Hai Nguyen, agreed to repay 10 workers a total of $20,250 to partially rectify the underpayments.

In response to the ABC’s Lateline report in October, 2013, Baiada advised the Fair Work Ombudsman that it had asked Pham Poultry if workers in the supply chain were being paid correctly, and had received the following information:

  • A letter from Pham Poultry’s accountant stating that the company was “compliant with the Poultry Processing Award”, and
  • An unsigned letter from Pham Poultry on company letterhead, also stating that it was compliant with the Modern Award.

Pay-slips provided by Pham Poultry show that for one week, it paid 12 employees (including the company director) wages totalling $6828.83.

However, the $6828.83 payment contrasts with a total of $196,307.01 paid to Pham Poultry that week by Bartter Enterprises Pty Ltd.

Baiada advised the Fair Work Ombudsman that based on the information above, it was “satisfied” that Pham Poultry was compliant with Commonwealth workplace laws.

The Inquiry does not agree and believes Baiada has failed to implement adequate governance arrangements to monitor its sub-contractors.

NTD Poultry Pty Ltd was named as a principal contractor for Baiada in December, 2013, replacing Pham Poultry.

However, a three-tier supply model remained in place, and the final labour provider continued to be FoxInt Pty Ltd, whose director Quoc Hung Pham was also a director of Pham Poultry and who could not be located by Fair Work inspectors.

The Inquiry received advice that FoxInt employees continued to be underpaid at rates as low as $11.50 an hour, but a reluctance by employees to act as witnesses prevented the Agency from pursuing any enforcement action.

Below is further example of the difficulty Fair Work inspectors encountered with sub-contractors during the course of their Inquiry:

DMY Trading Pty Ltd

DMY Trading and Yu Lin Trading Pty Ltd, operated by husband-and-wife directors, had six sub-contractors supplying workers to Baiada’s Hanwood site.

Based on records provided by DMY Trading, Fair Work inspectors attempted to serve a Notice to produce documents on one sub-contractor.

When they arrived at the address provided, they found an automotive workshop. The business had been there for 25 years and the owner had never heard of the labour-hire contractor.

Similarly, when Fair Work inspectors sought to contact two other sub-contractors, the addresses provided led them to clothing manufacturers who had never been involved in the poultry processing industry.

As a result of its Inquiry, the Fair Work Ombudsman recommends Baiada:

  • Ensures its sub-contractors identify the true employer and display the employer’s name on factory ID cards,
  • Introduce an electronic time-keeping system to properly record the start and finishing times of all employees,
  • Set up a formal complaint and dispute resolution process, including the appointment of a Mandarin-speaking human resources representative,
  • Commission an independent, external specialist to review its labour-recruitment practices,
  • Implement protocols and policies to improve governance arrangements to ensure workers at its sites are being paid correctly for all hours worked, and
  • Prepare industry and language specific induction materials for all workers.

For its part, the Fair Work Ombudsman will continue to work closely and collaboratively with other regulatory agencies and groups to:

  • Use Section 550 of the Fair Work Act and its accessorial liability provisions to ensure parties do not turn a “blind eye” to minimum employee entitlements, and hold to account those we find who are involved in contraventions of Commonwealth workplace laws,
  • Investigate labour supply chain practices, such as sham contracting, which deprive vulnerable employees of basic rights and protections, like penalties, overtime, allowances or leave; and pursue those responsible, 
  • Initiate enforcement action against parties, including any accounting and legal professionals found to be assisting businesses to provide false and/or misleading records to Fair Work inspectors,
  • Engage with major buyers of processed chicken products, such as Coles, Woolworths, KFC, Aldi and others, to raise awareness of the importance of compliant and ethical supply chains and, where appropriate, seek partnership agreements to promote compliance,
  • Assist Baiada to implement the recommendations of this Inquiry,
  • Develop a database, accessible by industry, to record all details and compliance history for contractors in the poultry processing industry. If the pilot is successful, the database could be expanded to include contractor information for other industries, such as the meat, horticulture and cleaning industries, 
  • Provide ongoing reports about the findings of investigations into non-compliance with workplace laws in other supply chains to assist other federal and state agencies, lead businesses and customers to understand the industries and to help promote ethical, moral and socially responsible practices,
  • Release this Report. There has been significant public discussion around the labour supply chain in this industry and there is public interest in the findings of this Inquiry. Baiada customers should have this information to make informed choices. It is also hoped the public release of this Report will give confidence to employees previously too frightened to speak to the Fair Work Ombudsman to now come forward with concerns about potential breaches of workplace law.
  • Inform the activity of Taskforce Cadena and the Phoenix Taskforce.

The Fair Work Ombudsman considers that the information it has obtained to date warrants further investigation into the Baiada Group and its contractors.

Ongoing inquiries will focus on accessories to contraventions, sham contracting, and provision of false and/or misleading records to Fair Work inspectors.

The Inquiry noted that when labour hire contractors were asked to demonstrate to Baiada that they were compliant with federal workplace laws, only “minimal evidence” was supplied, which the company appeared to accept at face value.

“Employees working at the Baiada Group’s sites are not being paid their lawful entitlements,” the Inquiry found.

“There is also a range of other conduct which may contravene the Fair Work Act under way at Baiada sites.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman encountered significant barriers to pursuing further inquiries or taking enforcement action in relation to a number of contractors who directly engaged workers, because they did not co-operate, entered into voluntary liquidation or were de-registered.

“In a large number of instances where Fair Work inspectors attempted (and persisted in attempting) to engage with contractors, they ceased operations and were quickly replaced with new ‘price takers’ – resulting in suppliers of labour forced into accepting market prices with no powers to negotiate a higher price.

“It is important to note the actual work and subsequent non-compliance with workplace laws is taking place on premises owned and operated by Baiada. It is therefore the chief beneficiary of work carried out by this labour force.

“Baiada has the ability to take steps to ensure that workplace laws are complied with on its sites.

“There has been extensive media coverage and public debate regarding underpayment practices occurring at Baiada.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman has a history of investigations at worksites where these issues have been raised with Baiada representatives.

“The findings of this Inquiry place Baiada and the head contractors on notice and therefore aware workplace laws are not being complied with and that correct minimum entitlements may not have been and may not be being met.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s ongoing inquiries and use of a range of specialised regulatory powers will continue to target practices that are found to be unlawful in supply chain arrangements in the poultry processing industry.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has asked Baiada to publicly declare that it has an ethical, moral and social responsibility to join with the Fair Work Ombudsman to stamp out exploitation of vulnerable workers at its work sites, and extended an invitation to Baiada to join with them in a compliance partnership.

 

Ministers get cracking on free range eggs

The Consumer Affairs Ministers have agreed to develop an enforceable national information standard for free range eggs.

Currently, the National Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals defines “free-range” as using a stocking density of no more than 1,500 birds per hectare but is not enforceable.

Coles and Woolworths have stocking densities of 10,000 birds per hectare, nearly 7 times the Model Code limit.

Currently ACT and Queensland are the only states to have free range legislation in Australia, but they vary greatly. The ACT sets a stocking density of 1,500 birds per hectare, but Queensland sets a stocking density of 10,000 birds per hectare. SA is introducing its own voluntary free range egg code.

In June 2014, NSW Fair Trading commenced work on the development of a national information standard for free-range eggs. However this requires Federal Government support to proceed.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, a national information standard is designed to ensure consumers can make informed decisions about what they are purchasing. Other national information standards in place include ingredient labelling on cosmetics and toiletries and care labels for clothing and textiles.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, the maximum penalties for supplying goods and services that do not comply with information standards are $1.1 million for a body corporate and $220,000 for an individual.

CHOICE’s campaign for a national standard for free range eggs saw more than 9,000 consumers write to Consumer Affairs Ministers last week calling on them to agree to a national standard for free range eggs and end the “free range” farce.

“This is a massive win for consumers and a significant step towards stopping the free range rip-off,” said CHOICE Director of Campaigns & Communications Matt Levey.

“84 per cent of egg buyers agree that a mandatory national standard is needed and today their voices were heard.

“We congratulate ministers on this decision and we particularly appreciate the leadership shown by the Hon. Victor Dominello, MP, NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, who has strongly advocated for a standard.

“While we don't want to put the chicken before the egg, the fact that the Ministers have agreed to develop a national standard is a significant win for Aussie free-range-egg lovers. We now need to ensure that the standard meets consumers’ expectations,” Levey says.

CHOICE will continue to work with governments, regulators, industry and consumers to help inform the national standard.

 

Aussie Farmers Direct suspends Baiada chicken range

Aussie Farmers Direct has stopped buying Lilydale Free Range chicken immediately, following the allegations regarding  Baiada Poultry's work practices.

Aussie Farmers Direct contacted Baiada, but said the response doesn’t satisfactorily address the key allegations.

In the ABC Four Corners program that aired on Monday (6 May), it was alleged that the exploitation of workers on 417 working holiday visas is widespread.

The program claimed workers are working long hours, being subjected to verbal abuse, experiencing sexual harassment, and being underpaid.

In a statement provided to the ABC, Baiada said allegations foreign workers are enduring slave-like conditions were inconsistent with prior checks and audits on their contract labour providers.

Baiada has been supplying Aussie Farmers Direct with Lilydale Free Range chicken in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

In a statement, Aussie Farmers Direct said “we are working hard to find alternative suppliers of the affected product lines for our Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia customers. This decision does not affect customers in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.

“Aussie Farmers Direct is committed to fair pricing; promoting ethical practices and a sustainable supply chain, as expressed in our Fair Food Charter.”

 

Baiada “surprised” by migrant worker exploit claims

In a statement provided to the ABC, Baiada said allegations foreign workers are enduring slave-like conditions were inconsistent with prior checks and audits on their contract labour providers.

In the ABC Four Corners program that aired on Monday (6 May), it was alleged that the exploitation of workers on 417 working holiday visas is widespread.

The program claimed workers are working long hours, being subjected to verbal abuse, experiencing sexual harassment, and being underpaid.

‘‘The program essentially focuses on the alleged exploitation of migrant workers by various contractor companies operating in the food industry supply chain and alleges, amongst other things, the practice of underpayment and mistreatment of contractor employees,’’ the statement said.

‘‘The specific matters referred to in this story as applying to Baiada have not previously been raised directly with us but a result of the program, we confirm a further review has been instigated.

‘‘We are surprised by the allegations and believe the allegations to be inconsistent with the results of our prior checks and audits on our contract labour providers.

‘‘We can confirm that the majority of Baiada’s workforce are directly engaged employees with formal contracts in place for services.

‘‘We also use some labour hire contractors in our operations throughout Australia. ‘‘Any companies that supply labour to us are specifically required to comply with all applicable Australian Workplace Laws and other regulations. 

‘‘Verification checks are conducted on every individual employed at our sites to ensure that they have  work rights entitlements to legally work in Australia before commencing work.

‘‘Baiada is committed to the fair and equitable treatment of all workers and in accordance with all relevant State and Federal legislation.’’

The Voice of Horticulture (VOH) has called for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to issue a “Green Card” when it issues a 417 Working Visa.

VOH has suggested a Green Card would incorporate the worker’s photo, name and visa status as well as Tax File Number and Superannuation Number to simplify the paperwork for growers and farmers to ensure they are employing legal workers. It recommended the back of the card Green Card would state minimum labour pay rates and provide Fair Work Ombudsman help lines in various languages so the worker could seek help if needed.

“The vast majority of more than 30,000 Australian horticulture farmers and growers provide excellent working conditions for their employees, with many itinerant workers returning year after year to the same farms and businesses because they have established a positive relationship with them,” said Voice of Horticulture Chair, Tania Chapman.

“The VOH condemns unscrupulous labour hire contractors and all those associated with them and welcomes increased enforcement and engagement activity, especially by the Fair Work Ombudsman, to bring the weight of the law on those who illegally exploit workers.”

“It is important that any solutions to increase enforcement do not add to the burden on growers and farmers who often struggle with the red tape around employment law, which is very complicated,” says Voice of Horticulture Deputy Chair John Dollisson. “Instead we need to focus on tracking down and stamping out the dodgy practises of some labour contractors.

 “VOH stands ready to work with all parties to publicise, stamp out and remove unacceptable and illegal work practices brought to light by ABC’s Four Corners,” says Chapman. “VOH will also help in any way to establish and roll out a Green Card solution.”

 

Egg producer turns chicken waste into power

Darling Downs Fresh Eggs in southern Queensland is the first egg producer in Australia to create power from 100 per cent poultry manure.

Geoff Sondergeld, chief executive officer of Darling Downs Fresh Eggs, said the rising cost of power, teamed with the need to do something with the poo produced by 250,000 chickens, made the choice to explore electricity production an easier one, ABC Southern Queensland reports.

95 percent of the farm’s energy consumption is from converting about 100 tonnes of bird waste a week into energy.

The conversion process

Liquid and solid waste is put into a "digestion" process which produces methane gas.

Once the methane is produced, a biogas generator converts the gas to electricity which powers the farm.

Chicken manure does not contain the natural bacteria needed to make methane, so it is added.

Sondergeld said the process is easier for piggeries, as pig manure has the naturally occurring bacteria that helps produce methane.

The facility on the farm has had to be registered as a separate power plant.

"There are a lot of approvals to obtain but it will be worth it in the fullness of time," Sondergeld said.

He expects the costs to be fully offset in five years.

"We are essentially turning a cost part of the business into a revenue generating part of the business," he said.

 

Luv-a-Duck announces operations expansion

Australian poultry processor, Luv-a-Duck will be creating 80 new jobs in the Wimmera district.

The company announced that it will be investing in a new duck value-adding kitchen facility, a research and development facility for breeding and growing ducks and expanded facilities at properties already under contract by farmers in the area, the Weekly Times reports.

The investment is expected to cost around $28m with Luv-a-Duck funding half or the money and the remainder sourced from contract duck growers.

The Victorian state government will also be contributing to the project by promising $600,000 in support.

 

Organic poultry producer to re-enter Asia

Australia's largest organic poultry producer, Inglewood Poultry Farm, is preparing to re-enter the Asian market.

The company, which is a subsidiary of RM Williams Agricultural Holdings, entered into receivership last year, and reportedly owed around $60m to the Wespac Bank.

Inglewood Farms has since been bought by the Youngberry family, who have since worked to re-establish trade links into Hong Kong, ABC Rural reports

Inglewood Poultry Farm CEO Katrina Hobbs told the ABC’s Queensland Country Hour that developing niche markets is the way into the Asian market.

“We are quite small when it comes to feeding somewhere like China,” Hobbs said.

“We need to look for niche markets that we can handle and we need to look for the right partners and build the relationships.

“It's not about profiteering from one deal, it's about the future.

“We need to have a long term view.”

Hobbs said chicken portion exports to Hong Kong will complement the local side of the business.

“We're looking to send product very shortly.

“They're looking for the wings and the thigh meat.

“In Australia, we tend to have more of a demand for the breast so it's great to have a utilisation of the carcase.”

 

“Free range” egg claims found to be misleading

The Federal Court has declared that Pirovic Enterprises Pty Ltd (Pirovic) engaged in misleading conduct and made misleading representations in its labelling and promotion of eggs as ‘free range’, in proceedings brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The Court ordered that Pirovic pay a pecuniary penalty of $300,000 and contribute to the ACCC’s costs.

From January 2012 until January 2014, Pirovic used egg cartons which included the words ‘Free Range’ and images of hens on open pasture.

The Court found that by labelling and promoting the eggs as ‘free range’, Pirovic represented to consumers that the eggs were produced by hens which were able to move about freely on an open range each day, and that most of the hens did in fact do so on most days but Pirovic admitted most of its hens did not move about freely on an open range on most days.

“Credence claims such as free range claims are powerful tools for businesses to distinguish their products. However, if they are false or misleading, they serve to mislead consumers, who may pay a premium to purchase such products,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

The Court found that the eggs supplied by Pirovic were produced by hens, most of which did not move about on an open range because of a combination of the following factors:

  • the stocking densities inside the barns where the hens were housed;
  • the flock sizes inside those barns; and
  • the number, size and placement and operation of the physical openings to the open range.

“This decision provides very clear guidance that any free range egg claim must be backed by farming conditions and practices implemented by suppliers under which hens actually move about on an open range each day,” Sims said.

This case forms part of an investigation by the ACCC into free range claims made by a number of egg producers across Australia. This investigation was initiated by the ACCC in response to community concerns.

There are a number of farming conditions that impact on whether hens are able to, and do, move freely on an open range each day.  The conditions (and their impact) vary between producers and no single condition of itself is conclusive.  The relevant conditions include:

  • the internal stocking density of sheds;
  • the conditions of the internal areas the hens are housed in;
  • the number, size and location of any openings to an outdoor area;
  • the time of the day and how regularly the openings are opened;
  • the size and condition of the outdoor area, including any shaded areas, the presence of food, water and different vegetation and ground conditions;
  • the stocking density of any outdoor area; and
  • whether the hens have been trained or conditioned to remain indoors.

 

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