Divided over future for caged hens
EGG farmers have welcomed new proposed welfare regulations while the RSPCA has slammed them because they do not ban cage production.
The guidelines, drafted by Animal Health Australia, are open for public consultation.
Egg Farmers of Australia chief executive John Dunn said the consultation process was an opportunity for a discussion about egg-farming practices based on facts.
“Animal welfare is important to farmers, and they know that healthy hens lay more eggs,” Mr Dunn said.
“This is why we want standards enshrined in law. Farmers have spent half a billion dollars over the past 20 years to bring their cages up to best practice, so we want to give the community confidence that our hens are well treated, whether they are free range, in a barn, or in a cage.”
The RSPCA is pushing to eliminate caged production systems and says it is outraged by the draft guidelines.
RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neil said the organisation had been a vocal critic of the standards and guidelines process for some time, but was still shocked by the resulting draft.
“To put it bluntly, we’re gutted,” she said. “These standards are an embarrassment and the community should respond to them as such.
“These standards are not based on science, are not sustainable, and will not improve animal welfare in line with community expectations.”
She said research showed 84 per cent of Australians wanted an end to cage eggs.
“New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the entire European Union have decided that battery cages must go, why is Australia falling behind?” Ms Neil said.
The final decision on the draft regulations will rest with the state and federal agriculture ministers.
Tasmania has about 12 commercial egg producers and two use cages for part of their production.
A Tasmanian egg-industry spokesman said market forces were the main factor in determining the type of production system used.
“We wouldn’t produce freerange eggs unless we knew we could sell them and the we also wouldn’t produce caged eggs unless we could sell them.”
The majority of eggs are sold through supermarkets but the food-service industry is a significant market where price is a critical factor.
Per capita egg consumption is on the rise and the spokesman said while some interstate eggs were sold here, Tasmanian consumers supported local producers’ efforts to consistently supply the market.