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Choice: Advocating Expensive Free Range Eggs

by 5m Editor
6 July 2012, at 7:32am

AUSTRALIA - The Australian Egg Corporation has warned that the call from the consumer organisation Choice for a free range stocking density limit of 1500 hens per hectare would see free range egg prices increase to more than A$10 a dozen.

Independent economic research commissioned by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd (AECL) shows that the prices of eggs would increase to an average of $10.60 per dozen and up to $12.80 per dozen if free range stocking densities were capped at 1500 hens per hectare.

AECL Managing Director James Kellaway said that currently, 81 per cent of free range egg production in Australia comes from farms stocked at over 1500 hens per hectare. More than 29 per cent of free range egg production comes from farms stocked at more than two hens per square metre. All of these farms comply with the stocking density provisions contained in the Model Code of Practice Domestic Poultry (4th Edition) – the government endorsed benchmark for hen welfare in Australia.

“It is unfortunate that such a trusted brand can mislead consumers to the extent Choice has regarding the Model Code of Practice Domestic Poultry (MCOP). The latest press release from Choice today again peddles free range fiction by saying that the MCOP has a stocking limit of 1500 hens per hectare. This is not true. Consumers need to understand that Choice is being misleading and playing politics with a document that was prepared and endorsed by the Standing Committee of Primary Industries Ministers in 2001.

“The fact is the MCOP allows unlimited stocking densities, over and above 1500 hens per hectare, which is plain to see on page 28 of the document, which states a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare or ‘NB: Any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover’.”

“However, AECL firmly believes there should be a cap on free range stocking densities of 2 hens per square metre. This is not about changing the MCOP. It is about AECL creating an industry standard that is evidence-based.

Mr Kellaway said Choice has chosen an irresponsible approach of trying to undermine a responsible, national Quality Assurance standard that aims to bring certainty, transparency and choice to egg purchasing as well as ensure free range egg affordability, while protecting the welfare of laying hens.

“AECL is creating the new, national Quality Assurance scheme to protect and enhance hen welfare while providing Australians with nutritious and affordable free range eggs stocked at a maximum of two hens per square metre. The Choice view of the world is ‘let them eat cake’ because many consumers aren’t going to be able to afford free range eggs if Choice get their way,” Mr Kellaway said.

“Recently, Choice claimed a survey of consumers showed that the majority wanted a stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare, however the survey was clearly flawed as it was not representative of Australian consumers (it was only of their members) and 65 per cent of its respondents did not know what a reasonable density was.

“AECL recently commissioned independent research into the attitudes of mainstream Australia towards free range stocking densities of up to two hens per square metre and 83 per cent were either fairly satisfied (52 per cent) or very satisfied (31 per cent) with the conditions observed in videos of a farm stocked at that density.

“Being evidence-based, AECL remains open to any new research that suggests an alternative maximum stocking density,” Mr Kellaway said.

“According to Treasury forecasts regarding Australia’s population growth, in the coming decades we will have to increase egg production by 92 per cent with fewer resources to meet demand. AECL’s new free range standard also takes account of this reality,” Mr Kellaway said.