A NSW government-linked farm is supplying “free range” eggs to the country’s biggest egg producer, a company that has played a critical role in lobbying efforts to weaken labelling standards.
The Department of Primary Industries-run Tocal College has signed a 10-year contract with Pace Farms to supply it with eggs from an operation with 70,000 hens on a 15-hectare property near Newcastle.
The business contract has sparked fears the government’s efforts to help develop a national, legally binding free range standard – most likely to be decided on Thursday – has been undermined by industrial egg producers.
Darren Bayley, the principal of Tocal College, said the farm met the Model Code of Practice, which says stocking densities can go beyond 1500 hens per hectare if they are regularly rotated.
He said the birds were rotated through clean, shaded paddocks for a minimum of eight hours a day, and not one dollar from the sale of the eggs went to the Department of Primary Industries.
“All of our eggs go to Pace Farms. We looked at the different providers and Pace had an excellent reputation. We’ve found Pace to be good to deal with. We’re proud of our enterprise, our layout and set up,” he said.
The managing director of Pace Farms is Frank Pace, who is a director of the Australian Egg Corporation Limited. The AECL at one stage attempted to secure a “free range” certification trademark that set the stocking density at 20,000 hens per hectare.
Consumer group Choice said the industry’s definition meant hens would never have to go outside, and has instead proposed: “Where most of the birds actually go outside regularly, have room to move comfortably when outdoors, and have room to move comfortably inside the barn.”