DECEMBER 17 2016 – 9:30PM
Kimberley Le Lievre
Free range egg consumers in the ACT are being warned to lower their expectations of quality as new national standards begin next year.
The Australia-wide egg labelling standard will override the ACT’s maximum 1500 hens per hectare, increasing it to almost seven times that amount.
Greens minister Shane Rattenbury called for the implementation of a birds per hectare scale to ensure greater transparency for the consumer. He said the term ‘free range’ would be hotly debated and a new term for ethical egg farming could come into play as the new standard was established.
Mr Rattenbury said ACT producers had been “sold out” by the decision.
“I know they’ve been both really disappointed and concerned because they’re operating at a higher standard and they will now be competing against the larger scale facilities, and it makes it very difficult for them,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He said it would allow bigger producers to splash the free range name over their eggs which, while they might comply with national standards, did not represent consumer expectations of the label.
Tharwa free range egg producer Bruce Gibbs has about 4500 birds per 20 hectares. His birds are constantly moved through areas of the farm at Cuppacumbalong to ensure nutrients are spread around and the birds don’t live in dusty patches devoid of grass.
He said 10,000 birds per hectare was factory farming, and even 1500 birds was getting towards that realm.
“Most of that stuff from about 1000 hens up, none of us [in the ACT] would farm at that level here and consider ourselves free range.”
Mr Gibbs said during the discussions to create a consistent national standard, small producers weren’t sitting at the table, and the standard was set for the wrong reasons by the wrong people.
While the standard had been set at 10,000 hens per hectare, Mr Rattenbury was calling on the federal government to improve the detail which he described as inadequate.
Mr Rattenbury’s recommendation letter was one of about 15 submissions the government received, alongside about 200 campaign letters and comments.
He said he did not support the stocking density endorsed by other states and territories and that the definition of free range was inadequate, “and does not accord with consumers’ general expectation of “free range” welfare standards”.
His concerns centered around the birds having appropriate facilities, and the requirement for how access to shelter was provided needed to clarified.
“Noting that in high population facilities it can be hard for birds to access the outdoors because of the size and type of the opening provided,” he said.
Mr Rattenbury also expressed concern about the clarity of, “meaningful and regular” access to the outdoors, and the broad exemptions which could mean birds wouldn’t have genuine opportunity to roam outdoors.
Source : Canberra Times