The Labor Party says WA consumers are being ripped off by “dishonest” egg producers falsely claiming free-range status.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Paul Papalia said today that true free-range egg farmers limited the number of chicks to 1500 per hectare.
However, gaps in regulations meant some WA farmers were getting away with marketing eggs under this status despite birds being crammed in cages at up to 50,000 per hectare.
“Consumers are being ripped off because… they will pay up to 10 cents more per dozen eggs in the belief that they’re buying free range,” Mr Papalia said.
“In Queensland and New South Wales if you want to market your eggs as free range you can have no more than 1500 hens per hectare.
“In Western Australia there’s no limit and there’s evidence to suggest that some people are marketing eggs are free range when they have as many as 20,000 to as high as 50,000 hens per hectare, which is effectively just battery farming.”
Mr Papalia was unable to provide details of how many egg producers were being dishonest or name any producers which were doing the wrong thing.
“I don’t know exactly how many are, but there is evidence to suggest some are,” he said.
Standing next to caged chickens outside State Parliament, Mr Papalia said it was a serious issue given demand for free-range eggs had increased by 200 per cent in the past six years and comprised 30 per cent of the total retail egg market.
He said if the Government did not act, Labor, if elected next year, would regulate to enforce the 1500 hens per hectare limit.
Jan Harwood, spokeswoman for the newly formed Free Range Egg Association of WA, said she personally knew of producers in Perth who had “far exceeded” 20,000 hens per hectare.
“We believe this is not sustainable for the hens’ welfare, it’s not sustainable for our industry and ultimately it’s not sustainable for consumers’ confidence in the integrity of our industry,” she said.
“This is about truth in labelling and it’s about people being honest in what they’re producing and how they’re producing it.
“At the moment the term free range is being abused much the same as organic was abused originally and we need to get some honesty and integrity back into that term.”
Leading Perth butcher Vince Garreffa said he went to a great deal of trouble to contact suppliers to find out where his produce came from.
“All the scientists are telling us that free range animals are much, much healthier and that’s what does us the world of good,” he said.
“We really need to step up to the mark and defend out food chain and make sure people know the difference. They are willing to spend good money on good produce but when a name like free range just becomes the soft sell it worries me a great deal. We need it to be respected and it’s not being respected.”Agriculture Minister Terry Redman’s office has been contacted for comment.
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