A WAR of words has erupted between Australian egg producers and RSPCA Australia over political manoeuvring to enhance industry’s animal welfare standards.
RSPCA policy officer Jed Goodfellow used social media to rebuke reports about Egg Farmers Australia’s (EFA) submission to a national public consultation process, aimed at devising new industry guidelines, which proposed placing a cap on caged egg production.
EFA’s submission to the review process pointed out that Australian egg farmers produced 15 million eggs per day; including caged, barn and free range products.
But the vocal industry body warned a phase-out of caged egg production - as demanded by the RSPCA federal body and animal rights groups - would make a carton of eggs up to 30 per cent more expensive and force Australians to pay $200 million more for eggs per year.
Dissatisfied at industry’s efforts to take on board public feedback to improve practices while maintaining its focus on continued farm viability, Mr Goodfellow – also a lawyer for animals – said “this is a token gesture from the cage egg industry”.
“It hasn’t invested in new cages for close to a decade because they know it's a dead investment,” he said.
“Battery cages lost the support of the Australian community long ago.
“The writing is on the wall.
“It's time for a phase-out.”
This is a token gesture from the cage egg industry. It hasn’t invested in new cages for close to a decade because they know it's a dead investment. Battery cages lost the support of the Australian community long ago. The writing is on the wall. It's time for a phase-out. #Auspolhttps://t.co/LcM7vkau9Y— Jed Goodfellow (@JedGoodfellow) February 27, 2018
But Egg Farmers Australia CEO John Dunn indicated his group was growing fatigued by activist style campaigning employed by RSPCA Australia and others which promoted misinformation on farm practices to consumers, in seeking to exert public pressure to force political influence over farm practices.
“We are supporting a temporary cap on conventional cages,” he said.
“That means any new cages would require perches and a nest box - it's a newer and larger cage - height allows for a perch and the much larger space allows for a nest box.
“But we don't accept this (cap) needs to be permanent.
“We are opening our doors, engaging with ordinary Australians and when we can demonstrate this industry has support we will reassess.
“These attributes address the concerns raised by welfare scientists around the need for behavioural experiences.
“Behaviour delivers a fuller animal welfare experience which is called for by the academics - basically the result of attributing sentience to animals.”
Yesterday was the final day for public submissions to be lodged into the ongoing process to develop updated poultry standards and guidelines that’s run for the past 90-days and is being overseen by Animal Health Australia (AHA).
Comment was sought on a regulatory impact statement which costed seven different options; with the main focus being on one option that recommended a ban on caged production.
Over 100,000 submissions were received calling for a ban on caged egg production – of an estimated 165,000 taken.
Public consultation on the draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry is now closed.— Animal Health Australia (@AHA_au) February 26, 2018
A big thank you to everyone who shared their views – we’ve received over 165,000 submissions!
For more info visit https://t.co/wkeWzZDaEBpic.twitter.com/QBekGkV1Hm
But Mr Dunn said his group approached the submission period and intense public campaigning as an opportunity to listen and enact changes based on community feedback.
He said he hoped commitments made in his group’s submission would build greater community confidence in an industry that produced 100 million eggs each week and contributed $1.8 billion to the economy annually.
“We knew there’d be outrage but we also felt we had something to offer,” he said.
“So we did a lot of work to open up farms and get punters to have a look for themselves and tell us what they thought.
“That process demonstrated that for average Australians, seeing modern cage farming was a positive surprise.
“Not everyone loved it, but everyone left knowing it was better than they thought.
“Many said they’d change their purchasing to buy caged eggs.
“People that saw it gave feedback and we’ve tried to respond.
“They asked for more education and engagement so we are committing to do that
“They asked for clearer communication with the public about animal welfare so we wrote a policy and that’s been released with the submission.”
Mr Dunn said some stakeholders had suggested the proposed regulations be confined to newly constructed farms and his group couldn’t support that call, but adopted the cap as recognition of the request.
“This is what the welfare scientists want - but it’s a temporary commitment because we genuinely believe that when we show people what we do and bridge the gap of knowledge around food production, people are ok with it,” he said.
“We will retain the cap until we can establish broad community support.”
But Mr Dunn said “we cannot keep doing this” with the processes around the welfare standards turning into campaigns rather than consultations.
He said the animal welfare lobby had “embraced its role as a campaigner and truth is the casualty”.
“We’re happy with where we’ve landed but we know we have to do more,” he said.
“The message to our critics is that we will be more open than before and even more engaged.
“We won’t accept being judged on 20 years of lies.
“The opposition has been challenging and RSPCA Australia has dealt itself out of conversations on reform.”
The move is expected to provide a basis for developing and implementing consistent legislation and enforcement activities throughout Australia for poultry welfare standards, based on current scientific knowledge, recommended industry practice and mainstream community expectations.
Following conclusion of the 90-day consultation period, an independent consultant will now provide a report, after reviewing public submissions to AHA which will deliver its findings to an Animal Welfare Task Group (AWTG) and further changes may be made.
Ultimately, it will be a policy decision for each state and territory jurisdiction, or Agriculture Ministers, to implement the poultry standards in legislation, as they see fit.
As part of the campaigning, RSPCA Australia also commissioned research that is said showed 82pc of rural Australians, and 72pc of Australians in regional centres were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about battery cages, which compared with just over 74pc of Australians in capital cities.
It also said about 80pc of rural Australians and almost 83pc of Australians in regional areas wanted battery cages phased out, compared with around 84.5pc of people in major metropolitan areas.
Mr Goodfellow said the revelations “fly in the face of claims by the cage egg industry”.
“Cage egg industry lobbyists are very fond of saying that opposition to cruel battery cages comes mostly from people in the cities, who don’t understand the realities of farming,” he said.
“That’s simply not true.
“People in Australia’s farming communities and regional centres, who work with animals and understand farming, know just as well as their city-based cousins that battery cages are unacceptable and unnecessary.
“The science debunks the use of cages and the community opposes them, so it’s time we put in place animal welfare legislation that reflects this, that stops the installation of any new battery cages and phases-out existing cages
- Does this article interest you? Scroll down to the comments section and start the conversation. You only need to sign up once and create a profile in the Disqus comment management system for permanent access to all discussions.