The West

Egg farmers battle free range density
Jan Harwood wants to see lower stocking densities in legislation.

The Margaret River-based Free Range Egg Association of WA will continue to press for a tighter definition of free range, despite the WA Government saying it is not their responsibility to legislate.

The group was founded in March to oppose moves by the Australian Egg Corporation to increase stocking densities on free range farms from 1500 hens per hectare to 20,000 hens per hectare.

They have gained the support of shadow agriculture minister Paul Papalia, who pledged to legislate a 1500-hens-per-hectare limit if Labor is elected next year.

However, Agriculture Minister Terry Redman has told the group it is not the Government’s role to define marketing terms such as free range.

“To Terry’s credit he has made himself available to hear our arguments and has clearly outlined the WA Government’s policy and reasoning for supporting the AECL’s change of standards – it’s just that we are on completely different planets,” group founder Jan Harwood said.

“FREAWA supported Labor’s launch of its pledge to legislate (as Queensland has and NSW and South Australia are considering) 1500 hens per hectare and has been in communication with RSPCA, the Humane Society, free range associations in other States and the WA Greens party, all of who are abhorred by the AECL’s proposed new standards and are committed to fighting it’s approval.”

The AECL recently released the results of national research they claim showed more than 80 per cent of consumers were satisfied with a 20,000 hens per hectare stocking density, equivalent to two hens per square metre.

AECL managing director James Kellaway said consumers praised the corporation for their initiative in introducing a limit and taking a responsible approach.

However, the RSPCA has questioned the research, saying video evidence showed consumers only a small proportion of birds moving around the edges of a grassy paddock and not the reality of a 20,000 hens per hectare density.

“Once again it appears that commercial, rather than animal welfare interests are behind the industry push to dramatically alter the boundaries of what consumers understand as free range,” RSPCA scientific officer Melina Tensen said.

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