Draft code avoids con­tro­ver­sial term

The egg in­dus­try is split on the def­i­ni­tion of ‘‘free-range’’. An ex­pert says it is a mar­ket­ing, not a wel­fare term. Daniel Adams re­ports

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

Large-scale egg pro­duc­ers run­ning flocks more than five times the size of small farm­ers’ flocks be­lieve con­sumers can de­cide whether their free- range cre­den­tials are up to scratch.

Free- range egg com­pany FRENZ di­rec­tor Rob Darby said as much as two-thirds of eggs sold as free-range were from largescale pro­duc­ers due to in­ad­e­qua­cies in the wel­fare code.

A drawn-out re­view of the code has cen­tred on cage pro­duc­tion and Mr Darby said the draft rules would let big pro­duc­ers con­tinue to profit from the free-range la­bel. But ma­jor pro­duc­ers run­ning flocks of up to 8000 birds said the stan­dards FRENZ wanted were not vi­able and would drive freerange farm­ers to the wall.

Egg Pro­duc­ers Fed­er­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Michael Brooks said the in­dus­try-funded feder- ation had en­dorsed the pro­posed 2500- hens- a- hectare stock­ing den­si­ties. He said the in­dus­try was split over the def­i­ni­tion of free-range but the new code would be the only in­de­pen­dent def­i­ni­tion driven solely by hen wel­fare im­per­a­tives, fi­nally giv­ing egg farm­ers and con­sumers cer­tainty around free-range la­belling.

Mr Brooks said the fed­er­a­tion had heard al­le­ga­tions that freerange la­belling was mis­used.

‘‘Tell us the name of the pro­ducer and we’ll go to the Com­merce Com­mis­sion on it,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘While some smaller free-range farm­ers dis­agreed with the bird­sto-hectare num­ber oth­ers saw it as pos­i­tive . . . a sta­tus not given un­der the cur­rent code,’’ he said.

Pri­mary In­dus­tries Min­is­ter David Carter is ex­pected to is­sue the new code mid-year.

Dr John Hell­strom, chair­man of the Na­tional An­i­mal Wel­fare Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, which has spent two years draft­ing min­i­mum stan­dards said, defin­ing the term free-range was not its job and he was sat­is­fied the rules pro­tected lay­ing hens’ wel­fare.

‘‘As far as free-range is con­cerned, the main points of con­tention were hen stock­ing den­si­ties, and pro­tec­tion of the term,’’ Dr Hell­strom said. ‘‘We’re try­ing to de­velop wel­fare stan­dards. We’re not an or­gan­i­sa­tion to pro­tect mar­ket­ing terms, that is out­side the leg­is­la­tion’s brief and our terms of ref­er­ence. We’ve de­cided not re­fer to free-range at all in the draft code but in­stead talk about stan­dards for birds farmed out­doors. That way we avoid any con­fu­sion. It’s a mar­ket­ing term, it’s not a wel­fare term.’’

Wood­land brand spokesman Hamish Suther­land said com­mer­cial re­al­i­ties had to be weighed to let the in­dus­try meet ris­ing de­mand for free-range eggs.

‘‘If the stock­ing den­si­ties get too low you would end up hav­ing the en­tire South Is­land cov­ered in chooks. There has to be some com­mer­cial bal­ance,’’ he said.

Dr Hell­strom said stock­ing den­si­ties var­ied in New Zealand and over­seas, and the draft code matched Euro­pean stan­dards.

‘‘Australia, for ex­am­ple, is look­ing at more than 10,000 birds a hectare, which is hardly freerange,’’ Dr Hell­strom said.

Mr Darby wanted den­si­ties of 1000 hens a hectare en­trenched in the new code.

‘‘They are sug­gest­ing in that code some­thing more than three times that. That is not sus­tain­able and will cause huge prob­lems. But it will sat­isfy the big guys be­cause they want 30,000 birds in a shed and don’t want to be re­stricted,’’ he said.

Mr Brooks said large shed sizes al­lowed au­to­mated egg col­lec­tion, which sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced labour costs, en­sur­ing sup­ply cer­tainty for ma­jor su­per­mar­kets.

FREE RANGE: Egg in­dus­try de­fines free range.

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