Do consumers know where their eggs come from and how they are farmed?
Changes proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation (AECL) could mean 20,000 hens can occupy one hectare – equivalent to two hens per square metre – and still have their eggs labelled free-range.
“We want to provide Australians with affordable free-range eggs long into the future. AECL’s new standard will allow egg farmers stocking at 750 hens, 1500 hens per hectare and those stocking up to two hens per square metre,” AECL’s managing director James Kellaway said.
"Those stocking below this level are strongly encouraged to market that point of different on their egg cartons and to their customers."
AECL research showed more than 80 per cent of consumers across the country were satisfied with the recommended free-range stocking density of 20,000 hens per hectare.
South Australian Farmers Federation poultry committee chairman and Tarlee free-range egg producer John Rohde is opposed to the higher stocking proposal.
“I think consumers are being misled. The ones who know and do their research, they know what they are buying, yes, but unless they do their homework they don’t know,” he said.
The Rohde family started their free-range egg enterprise more than 20 years ago and have followed the 1500 bird per hectare guide since.
“That is not a regulated code, as things have moved forward they have run them at whatever they think... I don’t believe these new rules are right,” he said.
“At 20,000 per hectare that is not free-range - they need to be called something else, like barnyard, whereas at 1500 per hectare they are able to range.”
Rohde’s Free Range Eggs support the RSPCA’s guidelines and carries its sticker on each cartons.
Mr Rohde said he found it hard to believe that consumers would be happy to see 20,000 hens per hectare.
Melina Tensen, RSPCA Australia scientific officer farm animals, said it appeared commercial, rather than animal welfare interests were behind the industry push to dramatically alter the boundaries of what consumers understand as free range.
“The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme allows up to 2500 birds per hectare if the range can be rotated. This is commercially viable, meets consumer expectations and most importantly meets the needs of hens," she said.
"Moreover, on RSPCA Approved farms, space allowance and providing for the hens’ behavioural needs inside the shed is just as important as the quality of the range.”
Ms Tensen said until more is known about how increasing stocking density affects hens’ welfare, consumers purchasing higher welfare eggs need to look for independent certification by a reputable organisation with a focus on welfare to be sure they are getting what they pay for.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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