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'Scare tactics': Greens hit out over free range eggs plan

Date

Tim Barlass

The Australian Egg Corporation want to allow higher density stocking rates for free range hens.

The Australian Egg Corporation want to allow higher density stocking rates for free range hens. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

The Greens have accused the Australian Egg Corporation of using misleading and deceptive scare tactics to advocate new voluntary standards allowing higher density stocking rates for free range hens.

Last month The Sun-Herald reported the Corporation's managing director James Kellaway saying that if the current recommendation for free range hens of 1500 hens per hectare was not lifted to 20,000/hectare then Australia would be forced to import eggs from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Talk of a flood of egg imports from countries like the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam is wrong and highly irresponsible. 

But the Greens planning to raise the density issue in Parliament, have responded saying that to allow fresh shell eggs to be imported would require a change to the current law by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service. Quarantine protocols only permit imports of cooked, processed eggs and egg products.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon will be making an adjournment speech about the issue and following it up in the Rural Affairs Committee at Senate Budget Estimates in two weeks time.

Animal welfare spokesperson Senator Rhiannon said: "The Australian Egg Corporation is peddling deceptive scare tactics in its bid to defend the battery cage and higher stocking densities for free range hens.

“Talk of a flood of egg imports from countries like the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam is wrong and highly irresponsible.

“This scare campaign is designed to hoodwink the public and cement changes to the code that will compromise living conditions for laying hens in Australia."

A spokesman for the Corporation, however, said if legislation was introduced that restricted the egg industry's ability to operate, then there was a likelihood of the need to import eggs.

He cited the example of the UK where there is a restriction on outdoor stocking densities and said egg imports had been increasing at the rate of 8.4% on average each year since 2003 and in 2010, the UK imported 148 million dozen.

He said: "This is not about AECL 'hoodwinking the public' but taking a responsible, proactive and transparent approach given society's challenges over the longer term and ensuring a sustainable, affordable and available range of fresh eggs for all Australians.

The Corporation came under attack from a second quarter with the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia accusing it of misrepresenting Scottish scientific research to mislead consumers.

The Association said the Scottish Agricultural College had denied claims by the Corporation that its research supported free range stocking densities at 20,000 hens per hectare.

In a statement it quoted Dr Victoria Sandilands, head of the SAC's Avian Science Research Centre saying: “If the Australia Egg Corporation think that 20,000 hens/hectare is acceptable outdoors, then it would be too far a stretch to say this is based on our work. This alteration would need considerable research on what is acceptable outdoors to back it up." Phil Westwood, spokesman for the Association, said: "This deception highlights the need for legislation to set a maximum stocking density for free range egg production, similar to the regulations in Queensland [of 1,500/hectare]."

The Corporation responded stating it acknowledged there was no known research globally on optimal outdoor stocking densities for free range laying hens – and that included densities of 1500 hens per hectare.

The spokesman added: "The Scottish research considered spatial requirements that allowed optimal behaviours for the hens. It was used as one of many pieces of evidence to assist determine the Corporation's maximum permissible density.'

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