Why were the caged egg producers the only people at the table when the future of free range was being decided?
After many years of confusion over the labelling of eggs it was a breath of fresh air when the debate was moved out of the Department of Agriculture, whose main function is to ensure profits to farmers, to Fair Trading Ministers whose main function is to protect consumers from fraud.
“We had spent years debating what makes a chicken happy and that was always going to fail. Chickens have no voice so they were open to interpretation. Consumers on the other hand are very vocal and they have spoken,” Verna Simpson, Humane Society International (HSI) director said. “They want honesty in the marketplace so they can buy their eggs with confidence, knowing that if they are paying a premium for free range, they are getting eggs from birds that are free to roam and have unlimited and easy access to the outdoors.”
“As the largest certifier of free range eggs and meats in Australia we are puzzled that NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello did not bring us into the discussions leading up to the Ministerial meeting held in Sydney last Friday,” Ms Simpson continued.
HSI finds it very worrying that he is seeking council on this from the NSW Farmers Egg Committee who have already declared that they want a 10,000 bird per hectare standard. This Committee is made up of not only big cage producers but also Pirovic Enterprises who have been found guilty by ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) of false and misleading conduct and fined $300,000 for the offence. Two of the other members were named in the recent Choice article as not meeting consumer expectation. Why would the future of free range be at the mercy of this gallery of rogues?
Chairman of the NSW Farmers Egg Committee Bede Burke said the industry representatives held a meeting two weeks ago in Adelaide. They agreed that "the maximum number of birds in a free range operation should be 10,000 birds per hectare”. Bede Burke is a major NSW caged egg producer who is opposed to free range and there were no true free range producers at that meeting. If Bede Burke gets to decide a standard for free range eggs heaven help the farmers who have invested and set up their businesses in line with the existing Model Code of Practice of 1,500 birds per hectare.
“As the process stands it is akin to Coles and Woolworths deciding the future of corner stores and that is just unacceptable. We have today asked again that we be consulted on behalf of the free range farmers who have asked us to be their voice,” Ms Simpson concluded.