True Free Range Egg Farmers Demand Joyce Retract Bird Flu Furphy
Our quest for cheap meat and eggs has more reaching implications than most people could imagine but last week’s outbreak of avian influenza (or bird flu) has made many of us sit up and take notice.
400,000 hens have been reportedly destroyed as a result of an outbreak of bird flu in Young NSW. These same reports describe this farm as being free range. This is incorrect. The majority of hens that were culled were caged birds.
Wambanumba Free Range, the subject of this issue, has council approval for only 80,000 hens. The balance of the 400,000 hens culled came from a neighbouring caged egg facility only 800 metres away.
Wambanumba Free Range consists of four massive sheds, silos, water tanks and outdoor runs for hens all enclosed in an area of just 1.6 hectares. The stocking densities for hens on this property are enormous, approximately 80,000 birds per hectare.
Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, has declared free range egg production as the cause of bird flu in this instance. The hens on the Young property do not meet the general consensus for the term free range and he has angered many genuine free range producers for his lack of foresight in making such an uninformed statement. Mr Joyce appears to be more concerned with using this incident as a tool to convince Woolworths to back down on their plans to phase out caged eggs from stores, a production system he seems to favour.
There has not been a recorded incidence of bird flu on any genuine free range farm in Australia.
Factory farming has created a breeding ground for disease and commercial versions of free range are no different as they offer very limited access to a range area and hens are house at the same overcrowded stocking rates as intensive production systems indoors. The very nature of these industrial sized operations requires that effluent ponds be constructed to catch run off to prevent contamination of the waterways. These ponds attract wildlife and in particular, the ducks that have been accused of spreading the bird flu virus.
Supermarkets have applied so much pressure to producers to supply cheap ‘free range’ eggs for their private labels that farmers are prepared to compromise human health and our food security to meet their demands. Both Woolworths and Coles allow stocking densities of 10,000 hens per hectare for eggs produced for their home brand labels.
Moving away from factory farms will minimize the opportunities for bird flu has to spread and mutate by reducing the density of birds that this short lived virus needs to stay alive.
Genuine pasture raised free range birds do not suffer the same disease burden of factory farmed animals and the farming systems employed mean that birds have low stocking rates reducing direct contact, well managed pastures with moveable hutches and a more natural existence that allows them to build immunity to diseases such as bird flu.
An industry vet, and consultant to many large caged egg producers, has called for the culling of the ducks that he believes threatens the egg industry. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) states that waterfowl and wild birds could carry the flu virus. Common sense must prevail. Factory farming is not worth the destruction of the wildlife and ecosystems that surround intensive poultry farms or the threat it poses to our food security.
We have written to Barnaby Joyce today to ask him to retract his statement that free range production encourages bird flu and that he research further the conditions under which the culled birds were kept and the true cause of the disease outbreak in Young.