A bill to stop egg companies who falsely market their products as free range has been introduced to NSW parliament by the Greens.
The new bill would ensure that free-range chickens would be packed no more densely than 750 per hectare, they would receive natural food, be allowed to sleep, and have access to plenty of shade, shelter and vegetation.
It would also prohibit beak and toe trimming and creates strict penalties for mislabeling eggs.
In a speech to NSW Parliament Greens MP Dr John Kaye said: “The root cause of the problem in the free-range egg industry is that there are no legislated definitions relating to it outside Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.
The definitions that do exist are not legislated, are inconsistent and create gaps in which unscrupulous egg producers can hide their products under labelling that deeply misleads consumers.”
“Even “barn laid” has little meaning. Animals are often crowded into high densities and dirty conditions, creating conditions for birds that lead to feather pecking and cannibalism,” Dr Kaye said.
In a statement Australian Egg Corporation said, “It is a well-accepted fact that hen husbandry and farm management are the most important determinants for ensuring best practice hen welfare in free range systems, not stocking density.”
“If the egg industry does not accommodate a realistic outdoor stocking density for free range hens, then Australia may end up importing shell eggs from countries that have lower food safety, environmental and welfare standards and laws than Australia. AECL does not support this.”
The Greens’ own analysis shows that between 2006 and 2007 the total laying hen flock in Australia declined by 6 per cent.
At the same time the population required to produce the number of eggs that were sold, and were claimed to be sold as free range eggs, would have needed to have increased by 37.2 per cent.
“Approximately one in six eggs that consumers who are seeking an ethically produced product purchase, and for which they will spend more money to purchase, actually come from hens that are living in conditions which are unconscionable to those who pay additional amounts to purchase them.” Dr Kaye said.
Greens MP and member for Balmain Jamie Parker, who helped launch the Bill, said: “A growing number of
residents in the electorate of Balmain are looking for eggs that come without pain and suffering for the hens that lay them.”
“People who choose to pay extra to buy free-range want to be assured that the hens who laid those eggs did indeed enjoy a decent quality of life,” Mr Parker said.
The bill passed the Legislative Council last November and is currently before the Legislative Assembly.
Mr Parker will host a public meeting on the issue at Leichhardt Town Hall on May 7.
By Jason Marshall