- Coles and Woolworths are set to phase out caged eggs by 2025
- Farmers are calling for financial support to ease the transition to free-range farming
- The egg industry says consumers can expect an egg shortage
The plan to phase out caged hens by 2036 is causing national confusion among egg farmers, supermarkets and governments.
While animal welfare advocates have called the 15-year phase-out too slow, the industry says it is not enough time, with some warning the move will cause extreme egg shortages.
Conventional – battery – cages are generally about 50 centimetres square in size and will be phased out in Australia by 2036 under the new standards.
From this year, all new chicken cages must be installed with nest areas, and layer hens must also have access to perches or platforms and a scratch area to allow them to behave more naturally.
Glenview Poultry Farm manager, Darren Letton, said there was no clarity about how the phase-out would look.
Although the reform is still over a decade away, Mr Letton said some supermarkets were already turning away his caged eggs.
Woolworths and Coles have said in statements that their eggs would be 100 per cent cage-free by 2025.
‘Difficult for farmers to survive’
Managing director of Days Eggs, Dion Andary, said there was no transition plan or support for farmers to move to free-range farming.
“Farming families will have to try and find money to virtually knock down their home and build a new one at their own expense, just to satisfy the trend,” he said.
With egg production input costs already soaring, Mr Andary said it would be very difficult for farmers to survive.
“There’ll be a business that will be able to cope, and there’ll be a business that won’t,” he said.
Mr Andary said the fact that nobody had sat down yet to determine how the guidelines would be implemented was fraught with danger.
“At this stage these are aspirational targets, and we treat them still as aspirational targets,” he said.
“If a particular date is referred to, is it going to be realistic to transition to that date? Only when that date comes will it be known whether the reality means the aspiration,” Mr Andary said.
Call for financial packages for farmers
Egg Farmers Australia CEO Melinda Hashimoto said state and federal governments needed to consider exit packages to support farmers financially.
“Given that farmers borrow millions of dollars from banks to invest in cage eggs, the guidelines fail to allow them to pay off current debts,” she said.
“It’s 10 years too early and could drive many family egg farmers to the wall,” Mrs Hashimoto said.
Consumers to absorb the extra costs
With evidence of egg producers already declining, there are concerns within the egg industry that the complete move to free range will not keep up with consumer demand.
Farmers say Australian consumers may soon pay more for the common trolley good.
According to a recent study by Australian Eggs, 36 per cent of egg sales in Australian supermarkets were caged eggs, which the industry says shows a strong demand for the more affordable product.
“Without them [caged eggs], Australian families would face less choice, a shortage of eggs and higher egg prices,” Mrs Hashimoto said
MP says consumers made to feel guilty
South Australian MP Rowan Ramsey believed there were dangers to abolishing caged hens entirely.
“Something like a bird flu infection in free range cooks could wipe the whole thing out,” he said.
“But the ones in a shed, where we dip our feet and have a high degree of disease control, may well be the survivors,” Mr Ramsey said.
Mr Ramsey claimed that consumers had been made to feel guilty about buying caged eggs and claimed that supermarkets were forcing expensive food on poor people.
“There’s a lot of people that need to go down the shopping aisle and fill up their trolley with the cheapest food they can find to feed their family — and they shouldn’t feel bad about it,” he said.
So, what’s next?
Minister for Primary Industries South Australia Claie Scriven said that there was an effort for a nationally consistent policy, but supermarkets insisting on transitioning before the national agreement were causing confusion.
Although the federal government proposed the new poultry welfare standards, it will fall to each state to decide how they want the phase-out to look.
“Early next year, the agriculture ministers will be meeting again to finalise those standards,” Ms Scriven said.
Extracted from ABC