KELMSCOTT resident Jehni Thomas-Wurth has labelled a new free-range egg standard that permits a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare as “legalised animal cruelty”.
Ms Thomas-Wurth has called on consumers to have a close look at free-range labels and boycott eggs that cause suffering to hens.
“I am truly outraged at the new guidelines the Government has rammed through, determining what may be called free range,” she said.
Egg producers can now stock 10,000 hens per hectare with only access to an outside environment, which could be a small opening in a huge barn, and will be allowed to call this free range.
“The standard does not require that chickens are outdoors at all,” Ms Thomas-Wurth said.
“This is not good enough. People who purchase free-range eggs do so with an expectation of improved animal welfare.”
The new standard merely intensified a system of egg production that in reality legalised animal cruelty, she said.
“If you aren’t lucky enough to have chooks in your own backyard, there are some ethical producers of true pasture-raised, free-range eggs out there, but you have to really look hard,” she said.
Federal Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said there was previously no single national definition of free range eggs. The new standard would require hens to have meaningful and regular access to the outdoors, with outdoor stocking of no more than one hen per square metre.
“Farmers of free range eggs will also be required to prominently disclose their outdoor stocking density of their hens, allowing consumers to easily choose their preference,” she added.
Ms O’Dwyer said the standard followed an extensive consultation process that started in October 2015 with nearly 10,000 consumers, farmers, retailers and advocacy groups providing input.
“Animal welfare issues relating to free-range eggs will be considered as part of the review of the model code for poultry by agriculture ministers, with public consultation beginning in September 2016,” she said.
Australian Egg Corporation Limited managing director James Kellaway said the move was a win for consumers and producers.
“It introduces a consistent regime nationwide and removes the uncertainty that has plagued the egg industry and the egg category for years,” Mr Kellaway said.
“Any confusion about what constitutes ‘free range’ is not just bad for consumers. It has become a significant issue for the egg industry, so it is worth noting that egg producers themselves have been among the strongest advocates for a national definition.
“The new definition is fundamentally about doing the right thing by consumers to ensure they can make informed decisions about what eggs they wish to buy based on known factors.”
Mr Kellaway said it also placed a “realistic cap” on outdoor stocking densities when previously there had been no cap or maximum density.