Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
COLES will stop selling company branded pork, ham and bacon from pigs kept in crammed stalls as well as company branded caged eggs from January, meeting a commitment by the company to phase out the factory farming practices a year early.
The announcement comes as Animals Australia, the group that uncovered the cruelty to Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs last year, launches a campaign against the factory farming of animals.
The campaign, which features TV ads, pleads with consumers to use their purchasing power to end the trade. The ads show pigs and chickens in squalid conditions with some animals made to look like they are singing.
"The majority of pork, egg and chicken products on supermarket shelves come from factory farms where animals are severely confined, have no quality of life and are routinely subjected to surgical procedures without pain relief,'' the campaign director, Lyn White, said.
"Many of the practices inflicted on chickens and pigs in Australia would be cruelty offences if inflicted on dogs or cats. This simply cannot be justified when we know that all animals share the ability to suffer."
Animals Australia says laws now allow battery hens to be packed into cages where they cannot stretch their wings; mother pigs can be caged barely able to move for months on end; and chickens raised for meat have been bred to grow at three times their natural rate, causing health problems.
The organisation has written to the agricultural industry urging it to encourage members and producers to move to higher welfare systems.
Coles first made the commitment to phase out the products because of ''consumer sentiment'' in 2010. The company says 34,000 mother pigs will no longer be kept in stalls for long periods of their lives and 350,000 hens will be freed from cages.
Customers will not suffer higher prices as a result of higher production costs.
Animals Australia wrote to the National Farmers Federation chief executive, Matt Linnegar, about the campaign arguing it would give farmers interested in welfare but concerned about backlash the confidence to change practices.
''We understand that the current demand for pork, chicken and egg products cannot be met by higher welfare systems, hence the need to educate the community to eat less and pay more - ensuring that the bottom line for producers can remain positive.''
Woolworths said 98 per cent of its fresh pork suppliers operated sow stall free farms and it expects all of its fresh pork to be produced in stall free conditions by mid 2013. The company said it has already removed caged eggs from its Select brand eggs.
The Australian Egg Corporation Limited - representing 400 commercial egg producers that distribute a range of products to the local market - said banning eggs from one egg production system was misguided.
''The decision should be a consumer's, based on their personal choice and budget. Families shouldn't be manipulated by activists such as Animals Australia and retailers such as Coles," AECL managing director James Kellaway said in a statement.
Mr Kellaway said there are three recognised egg farming systems - caged, barn and free range - with caged eggs comprising 55 per cent of the retail market. Coles says free range makes up 50 per cent of its branded sales.
"Each of the three main egg farming systems has welfare strengths and weaknesses. For example, hens in cages are likely to live longer, be more healthy and are safe from weather and predators. Just like Animals Australia, AECL fully supports greater welfare outcomes for all of our laying hens but we believe science should lead the way, not emotion or self-interest.
"As such, we have invested more than $10 million over 10 years in research and development into better welfare for hens and this investment will continue," Mr Kellaway said.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story failed to specify the new measures only concern Coles-branded pork, ham and bacon products.