Animal protection organisation, Humane Society International, has responded to claims that a bird flu outbreak on a free range egg farm in Young is threatening the supply of cage-free eggs, arguing the farm isn’t free range at all.
Verna Simpson, director of HSI, contacted Food magazine after it published news that the supply of cage-free eggs is under threat following an outbreak of the H7 Avian Influenza strain on a Langfield Pastoral Company farm in Young in October 2013.
The outbreak saw all 400,000 hens from the property, as well as 50,000 from a neighbouring property destroyed. In the story, Bede Burke, chairman of the NSW Farmers egg committee, said some egg producers will have to walk away from the industry, arguing free range operations are risky business.
''People who have grown and expanded into free range in the last seven years, to be now 35 to 40 percent of egg production base, they are now carrying this risk factor that you cannot insure against and we don't include in our pricing structure for our eggs,” he said.
The farm in question, however, was not free range at all, claims Simpson. “This was anything but a free range facility with massive amount of hens on a small parcel of land. There has NEVER been an outbreak of bird flu traced back to a REAL free range facility,” she said.
“The Young property was running 420,000 birds on a couple of hectares (with council approval for only 80,000) so I’ll let you do the math.”
In a letter to Barnaby Joyce, federal minister for Agriculture, Simpson claims “The hens on the ‘free range’ farm were stocked at an enormous 80,000 hens/ha which is hardly free range when compared to those who abide by the guidelines of the Model Code.”
Currently, the code states that ‘free range’ can mean stocking densities of up to 1,500 birds per hectare, but last year the Queensland government increased its densities to 10,000 birds per hectare.
Simpson also criticised Joyce for claiming that free range egg production encourages bird flu outbreaks.
“Research shows that there is ample evidence to counteract your statements, instead showing that it is confinement on factory farms that contributes widely to the spread of avian flu,” she said.
In her email to Food magazine, Simpson suggests Bede Burke, who says retailers would be foolish to stop stocking caged eggs, is looking after his own business interests.
“It is in the interests of Bede Burke to discredit free range as he is trying desperately to protect his cage production.”