Home' Smart Farmer : February 2011 Contents February 2011
By SARAH SLEE
STAND-OFF over changes to
free-range standards is threat-
ening to divide the egg
Controversy was sparked when the
Australian Egg Corporation pro-
posed changes to the Model Code of
Practice for the Welfare of Animals,
which they claim will make stan-
dards less subjective and more
auditable in preparation for seeking
endorsement of the Code by the
Joint Accreditation System of
Australia and New Zealand.
President of the Free Range Egg
and Poultry Association of Australia,
Phil Westwood, has written to JAS-
ANZ, asking them to reject the new
standards proposed by AECL.
The current Code sets the maxi-
mum density for free-range layer
hens in an outdoor system at 1500
birds per hectare.
An attached footnote states 'any
higher bird density is acceptable only
where regular rotation of birds onto
fresh range areas occurs and close man-
agement is undertaken which provides
some continuing fodder cover.'
The AECL is proposing a maxi-
mum density of 20,000 birds/ha be
specified in the footnote.
Managing director James Kellaway
said industry audits showed there
were producers with more than
50,000 birds/ha and the change
would improve practice for free-
range production by capping the
density that was acceptable in a rota-
Mr Westwood said the change was
"ludicrous and misleading" and
would indicate to producers that
they could increase stocking densi-
ties to 13 times the accepted maxi-
mum, while still labelling their eggs
"If the AECL is aware of any free-
range farms running 50,000 birds/ha
-- or even 10,000/ha -- it should
report those operators to the ACCC,
as they would clearly be in breach of
the Model Code and State regula-
tions in several States, which have
imposed the 1500/ha limit," Mr
He said the proposed wording
contradicted itself, because it was not
possible to maintain fodder cover
with such high stocking densities.
"In some circumstances, and dur-
ing peak growing seasons, it may be
possible to run more than 1500/ha,
but only up to 2000 or so," he said.
"Certainly there is no evidence to
demonstrate that 20,000/ha, or even
10,000, could be kept in a true free-
range system while maintaining sus-
tainable land management practices.
In fact, keeping birds at 20,000/ha
would ensure that fodder cover
could not be maintained."
Higher stocking densities would
also lead to an increase in the prac-
tice of beak trimming carried out to
prevent feather pecking and canni-
balism, which were less prevalent in
systems with lower bird densities.
Mr Westwood maintained that
1500/ha was the accepted maximum
stocking density for free-range sys-
tems, and said the AECL was effec-
tively increasing the cap from 1500
"That is totally unacceptable," he
"Many commercial free-range
farms in Australia operate successful-
ly with stocking rates of less than
1500/ha. The AECL's proposed
change to the maximum permitted
density on the free-range farms it
accredits will mislead consumers by
allowing intensive farming opera-
tions to label their eggs as 'free-range'
without meeting the costs associated
with genuine free-range production."
• Need to know more?
Fiona, Jason, Tom and Thomas Fryar of Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs.
Hens at KI Free Range Eggs.
AECL caps free-range density at
Current accepted maximum
Farmers angered, consumers
ONE of South Australia's largest free-
range egg producers believes pro-
posed changes to industry standards
will deceive consumers and put small
producers out of business.
Tom and Fiona Fryar of Kangaroo
Island Free Range Eggs run 50,000
hens at a density of only 100 per
hectare. Mobile sheds are used to pro-
vide access to fresh pasture and hens
are free to range and forage at all
times. Beak trimming is not required
Tom estimates his free-range pro-
duction system is up to five times
more expensive to run than an inten-
sive egg farm. A large portion of that
cost is labour, with 18 people
employed to maintain the operation.
He believes proposed changes to
the Model Code of Practice would
result in a 10-fold increase in 'free-
range' eggs coming onto the market.
"Producers running 20,000 hens/ha
will be putting eggs on the shelf at
$1.50 to $2 less than what we get for
ours," he said.
"Consumers will see the same free-
range labelling on the carton, so we
will struggle to compete. It would seri-
ously hurt us and smaller producers
will get pushed out of the market
Tom says a system that runs 20,000
hens per hectare is not free-range.
"Hens should be able to go outside
whenever they like, eat pasture and
scratch for insects," he said.
"A system with 20,000 birds/ha
would not enable or encourage all
birds to go outside, and pastures
would be devastated within a few
"The free-range market is growing
rapidly and it is free-range producers
who have done the work to promote a
product that consumers buy, based on
the fact that it comes from a free-
range system. The AECL is weakening
that system to suit the big producers
who are not free-range, but want a
cut of the free-range market."
• Need to know more?
Changes will weaken industry
Free-range egg fight erupts
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