Egg Shortage Offers Consumers Opportunity To Switch To True Free Range Eggs
News this week that Australia will face an egg shortage this festive season after a bird flu outbreak at an intensive Farm Pride operation in Young means that consumers will see egg prices rise as a result. Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, was quick to lay the blame for the outbreak on the free range egg industry – a devious strategy given his mission to discourage supermarkets from phasing out caged eggs. Further investigation reveals that Mr Joyce’s comments were ill informed, inaccurate and allegedly served another agenda.
Humane Society International (HSI) wrote to Mr Joyce last October explaining that he should be representing all egg production systems equally, and his comments could prove highly damaging to small free range egg farms given his bias towards large-scale caged egg producers. Mr Joyce has so far failed to respond to our letter, or retract his false statement that free range production encourages bird flu.
The facts are simple – approximately 450,000 birds were destroyed as a result of the flu outbreak and the majority were caged hens. Although the virus is said to have originated from the property’s ‘free range’ farm and spread to its neighbouring caged facility, it turns out that Wambanumba Free Range consisted of very large sheds in close proximity to one another, with very small outdoor runs between each building – hardly the picturesque image of a free range farm perceived by consumers. The stocking densities for hens on the Wambanumba Free Range property are enormous, approximately 80,000 birds per hectare. True free range egg farmers who follow the guidelines of the Model Code of Practice stock no more than 1,500 hens per hectare – they provide pastures for the birds to graze, as well as shade, shelter and rotation and have remained free of the disease. In fact, there has not been a recorded incidence of bird flu on any genuine free range egg farm in Australia.
Verna Simpson, HSI Director, says, “With less fake free range eggs in the marketplace this festive season, this offers ethical-driven consumers a fantastic opportunity to successfully find true free range options. These can often be found at farmers markets and health stores. To help you understand what’s what, just visit our standalone website, www.animalwelfarelabels.org.au, which offers unbiased explanations on what each label actually means.”
This issue extends much further than the production of eggs, and consumers have voiced their opinions loud and clear about truth in labelling of free range products. Fortunately, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have been weighing in on the debate and a series of major complaints by HSI are currently under their thorough investigation, capturing the whole free range industry. HSI is hopeful that the outcome of their investigations will help to finally resolve this issue, preventing any more consumer deception and protecting genuine free range producers and their animals.