why is the government interFering with legal process?
In a number of recent cases the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has successfully prosecuted poultry producers for false credence claims. This has started to bring clarity to an industry that has been hijacked by a handful of large producers who charge a premium for higher welfare food, but do not deliver on the standards.
One such recent case is that of ACCC v Pirovic Enterprises. In this instance the Court imposed a penalty of $300,000 on Pirovic for misleading consumers with the use of the term ‘free range’ on their egg cartons, when their 80,000 hens in fact rarely if ever saw the light of day. When questioned, Franko Pirovic observed that his practices were consistent with most of his competitors who promoted their eggs as ‘free range’.
And it appears he was not wrong. Many other cases currently before the courts have exposed similar false claims in an industry that is often dishonest and unapologetic in its disregard for consumers and animal welfare standards.
“During these cases the ACCC has proved its worth as an independent body, concerned only with enforcing the law. It is doing this very effectively: people are reporting bogus claims, and the ACCC is investigating and bringing perpetrators to justice. With the system apparently working so well, why does the Government deem it necessary to appoint an Agricultural Commissioner?” Verna Simpson, Director Humane Society International said today.
In the Minister for Agriculture’s words, “A more farm-savvy and proactive ACCC will strengthen competition and address any misuse of market power through fair trading investigations that are enforced and undertaken by those with a real understanding of how farms and agricultural markets operate”. In other words, forget independence, and forget the law.
The Minister’s preferred choice for the position of Agricultural Commissioner is Mick Keogh, the Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute. This is what Mr Keogh had to say, amongst other things, about the Treasury’s current public consultation into establishing a national definition for free range eggs:
“While consumer perceptions of what constitutes free range are undoubtedly influenced by anthropomorphic projections and fictional, idyllic depictions of farming, it is highly questionable whether those conditions actually result in improved animal welfare or health outcomes for the animals in question.” After agreeing that the implementation of a ‘free range’ egg standard makes sense, Mr Keogh continues, “For a sector like egg production this will have consequences in terms of additional costs and the need for capital investment, but in the absence of competition from imports, these costs cat largely be passed on to Australian consumers.”
“In these few words Mr Keogh has openly declared his bias and disregard for Australian consumers, how ironic for someone who may be in line for a position with ACCC. So who will independently defend consumers and small producers against misleading and deceptive conduct in the agricultural industry if he becomes the Commissioner?” Ms Simpson said.
“There is no demonstrated need for an Agricultural Commissioner at all. ACCC can consult with any department at any time. Every door in Australia is an open door to ACCC. This appointment is a flagrant interference by Government in due process and the ability of the ACCC to carry out its role without fear or favour,” Ms Simpson concluded.