Gingin producer defends cage eggs

Cage, barn and free range systems all have advantages and disadvantages, according to Gingin-based egg producer Golden Eggs.

EGG producers, including a Gingin-based farmer, have hit back after claims industry interests have dominated a review of animal welfare standards for poultry.

Golden Eggs managing director Peter Bell said a roundtable organised by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan had been dominated by activist groups.

Mr Bell said Golden Eggs was the biggest producer and marketer of eggs in WA and supplied cage, barn and free range eggs to consumers.

“We operate farms in regional areas with our main site being in Gingin,’’ he said.

“There are many misconceptions about what egg farmers do, driven largely by activist groups and other uninformed people.

“As egg farmers we are focussed on the welfare of our laying hens whether this be in cages, barns or free range.

“All systems have pros and cons and in the case of cages the advantages relate to better health and better livability, which we believe should be the primary concern.’’

In Laws on cage egg farming under review Yanchep News Online, February 18 Animal protection organisation Animals Australia campaign director Lisa Chalk said industry interests had dominated the discussion about animal welfare standards and it was time for the public to raise their voices to reflect community expectations.

Ms Chalk said it was the first time in 17 years the laws allowing cage egg farming have been under review.

In December last year Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said if adopted the draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry would do little to improve  welfare standards for egg-laying and meat chickens.

Ms MacTiernan then held the roundtable with poultry industry leaders and animal welfare groups to help guide the Western Australian government’s position on proposed national animal welfare standards for poultry.

Representatives from the Commercial Egg Producers’ Association WA, the WA Poultry Association, the WA Chicken Meat Council, the WA Broilers’ Association, RSPCA and Animal Australia were invited to put forward their position on the draft standards, with a focus on conditions for egg-laying chickens.

Mr Bell said Ms MacTiernan had not yet fully engaged with egg farmers to better understand the full facts about egg production and particularly with the welfare benefits of cages.

“WA egg farmers have invested $50 million in the past 10 years to improve significantly our cages.

“We now have modern European cages which are industry best practice and we’re still paying off that investment.

“At Golden Eggs we are also continuing to invest in free range egg production to meet a growing market for eggs.

“Golden Eggs and other egg farmers want consumers to have the option to buy the eggs they want and not to have this choice removed. “Cage eggs is one of the choices which provides a healthy food at the most affordable price.’’

When she announced the roundtable Ms MacTiernan said the government wanted to reach a consensus balancing modern science on animal welfare, consumer expectations and industry needs.

She said the roundtable was an opportunity for WA’s poultry industries to be on the front foot in guiding modern animal welfare standards for the state and the nation.

Egg Farmers of Australia chief executive officer John Dunn said

Ms MacTiernan first articulated at the roundtable a proposal to phase-in furnished cages over a 10-year period.

Mr Dunn said the furnished cages would cost the industry about $100m, which was not sustainable.

“Making good on her threat of a ban on cages would send farmers to the wall,’’ he said.

“Nationally, farmers have already invested $500 million over the past 10 years to upgrade infrastructure to best practice for better animal health outcomes.

“In our view, the draft standards and guidelines again help our industry improve – strengthening and regulating for animal welfare, delivering choice for consumers and allowing the industry to continue to feed Australia affordably.’’