BATTLELINES have been drawn over the quality of science underpinning proposed animal welfare standards in the Australian poultry industry, targeting caged egg production.
RSPCA Australia has fired a warning shot in slamming the new draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry standards that was released today by Animal Health Australia.
The release launches a 90 day consultation period ahead of a final decision being made by all state, territory and federal agriculture ministers in February next year.
But Egg Farmers of Australia CEO John Dunn said the public consultation process was an opportunity for a discussion about egg farming practices “that is based on facts”.
A statement from Egg Farmers of Australia welcomed the draft industry standards and guidelines being unveiled, while urging governments to enshrine the welfare of hens in national legislation; whether they be in free range, barn or caged farms.
Mr Dunn said his organisation and its members would argue that all three existing farming methods not only produced sustainable welfare outcomes, but also were “necessary” to produce the 16 million eggs that Australians eat each day, affordably.
“Animal welfare is important to farmers and they know that healthy hens lay more eggs,” he 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.
“Caged eggs are not only most affordable for consumers, but they rate better against a range of animal welfare measures.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to each farming method, and while caged eggs are criticised by some people, they are ignoring the facts: caged birds live longer, they are safe from predators and experience less disease – meaning they do not require antibiotics.”
In a pre-emptive move ahead of the draft standards being released today, RSPCA issued a statement last week warning about community expectations of animal welfare standards in the poultry sector saying 84 per cent of Australians wanted to end the battery cage.
RSPCA said its independent research also found that for 65pc of Australians concerned about battery cages, the issue impacted upon their decision whether to buy or eat eggs.
RSPCA Australia CEO Heather Neil “It would be a very foolish business indeed that ignored the revelation that more than eight in every 10 Australians opposed one of its major business practices”.
“Furthermore, I would think barn and free-range egg farmers would be gravely concerned about the damage battery cages are doing to their reputations and the consumer’s likelihood to buy or eat eggs,” she said.
“Unless the egg industry and governments act now to commit to a phase-out of battery cages, it appears there’s only one way for the egg industry to go, and that’s down.”
RSPCA reacted angrily to the release of the new draft standards today saying it was “firmly distanced” from the welfare proposal while calling it “inadequate and not based on science or evidence”.
“To put it bluntly, we’re gutted,” Ms Neil said.
“These standards are an embarrassment and the community should respond to them as such.
“These standards are not based on science, are not sustainable and will not improve farm animal welfare in line with community expectations,
“Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that these standards will not commence a phase-out of cruel battery cages for layer hens, despite overwhelming scientific evidence and growing international condemnation of this production system,
“Instead, they propose to condemn over 100 million inquisitive, social, and intelligent layer hens to lives of abject misery inside barren battery cages for the next decade or more,
“This is morally and scientifically indefensible,”
Ms Neil said NZ, Canada, the UK and entire European Union had “decided that battery cages must go, why is Australia falling behind?”
“We want to be very clear that the RSPCA cannot support these standards, and will be encouraging our many supporters to vocally oppose them as well,” she said.
“State and territory governments will soon have to decide whether they want to continue endorsing a cruel and outdated system or whether they will be part of the future of humane and sustainable agriculture,
“Now is the time for Agriculture Ministers to step up and show leadership.”
RSPCA said once finalised, the standards would govern the way approximately 700 million layer hens, meat chickens, turkeys, and ducks are treated in Australia’s commercial poultry industries each year, for at least the next decade or more.
Animal Health Australia CEO Kathleen Plowman said the community and interested parties can now have their say on the draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry and the associated Regulation Impact Statement, with the 90-day public consultation commencing today.
She said the 90 process also allowed for feedback on the associated RIS which identified key costs and benefits for poultry producers, governments and the wider community, of the proposed standards.
The development of the draft began in 2015 - a project managed by AHA - involving governments, peak livestock industry bodies and welfare organisations involved.
“Once finalised, the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry will provide the basis for new regulation to enhance poultry welfare in all Australian states and territories, so we urge producers and the wider community to provide input on the draft document,” she said.
“As a result of this scientifically-based collaboration, the draft document provides welfare guidance on 10 different aspects of animal husbandry specific to the poultry industry.
“This public consultation is the next important step in the document’s development, which will help ensure all views on welfare standards are considered and that a robust document is delivered to Australia’s agricultural ministers for their noting or endorsement
The public consultation period ends on Monday February 26 and will be followed by a review of submissions by an independent consultant and revised welfare standards developed for consideration by a stakeholder advisory group.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission also released a report today outlining new research into the commission-based charity fundraising industry in Australia.
It said animal protection represented just 1pc of charities - by main activity - in Australia for 2015.
Religious activities was top of the list with 31pc followed by education 18.9pc.
But of the top seven causes that Australians were “highly motivated” by in 2016, animal welfare was third on the list at 44pc behind children’s charities and medical research.
Animals and the environment was also rated third on a list of average annual donation to charities by sector in 2016-17 with $225, behind humanitarian services on $439 at the head of the list, with community service and children/family second placed on $251.
“Whilst children’s charities represent the cause which motivates the highest proportion of Australians, in the Gen Y segment alone the top cause is animal welfare 53pc,” it said.
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