Battle lines have been drawn in the poultry industry between producers and animal welfare groups with egg producers worried about certain options in documents associated with draft industry standards and guidelines that could cost millions and put many growers out of business.
The draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry refer to the egg, chicken meat and breeding industries, plus other birds – including emus, turkeys and pheasants – raised for meat, eggs and other purposes.
Egg Farmers of Australia chief executive officer John Dunn said members welcomed the draft and were keen to see the current draft become legislation, covering free range, barn and caged egg systems.
Animal Health Australia – the national body that oversees the development of the standards to safeguard the health and sustainability of livestock – announced a 90 day public consultation period before a final decision is made by all state, territory and federal agriculture ministers.
Mr Dunn said all three existing egg systems produced sustainable welfare outcomes and were necessary to produce the 16 million eggs that Australians eat each day.
In the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement, Egg Farmers of Australia supports option C – to adopt the proposed standards as currently drafted.
But the group was concerned about a number of other options supported by groups like the RSPCA, which could see conventional cages phased out over 10 or 20 years in favour of alternative systems at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion (10 years) or $1.12 billion (20 years) to the egg industry.
“Animal welfare is important to farmers, and they know that healthy hens lay more eggs,” Mr Dunn said.
“This is why we want standards enshrined in law.
“Farmers have spent half a billion dollars over the last 20 years to bring their cages up to best practice, so we want to give the community confidence that our hens are well treated, whether they are free range, in a barn, or in a cage,” he said.
“Caged eggs are not only most affordable for consumers, but they rate better against a range of animal welfare measures.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation also welcomed the draft and a spokesman said it reinforced “practices that contribute to good bird welfare, which were previously adopted voluntarily”.