Guest blog today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger.
Things are hardly ever what they appear to be, especially not in the world of shopping, and in particular, in the world of egg buying. A few nights ago we were jolted into the reality of animal cruelty when a program on chooks and their environs was presented on ABC television‘s 7.30 Report.
It proved to be an amazing world of deceit, cunning, and hoodwinking of you, the customer. If you thought that buying ‘free range’ eggs made you into a person caring for the welfare of the Rhode-Island Reds, think again. Unlike in the EU where the term ‘free range’ means a minimum of 4 square metres of open space per chicken and a mandatory supply of greenery, here ‘free range’ can be even more cruel and horrific than caged birds.
The European Union regulates marketing standards for egg farming which specifies the following (cumulative) minimum conditions for the free-range method:
- hens have continuous daytime access to open-air runs, except in the case of temporary restrictions imposed by veterinary authorities,
- the open-air runs to which hens have access is mainly covered with vegetation and not used for other purposes except for orchards, woodland and livestock grazing if the latter is authorized by the competent authorities,
- the open-air runs must at least satisfy the conditions specified in Article 4(1)(3)(b)(ii) of Directive 1999/74/EC whereby the maximum stocking density is not greater than 2500 hens per hectare of ground available to the hens, or one hen per 4m2 at all times and the runs are not extending beyond a radius of 150 m from the nearest pophole of the building; an extension of up to 350 m from the nearest pophole of the building is permissible provided that a sufficient number of shelters and drinking troughs within the meaning of that provision are evenly distributed throughout the whole open-air run with at least four shelters per hectare.[
It is different in Australia where there seems to be an open slather on deceiving customers into thinking that free range eggs, which are often 2 to 3 times the price of caged eggs, are somehow produced by happy chickens, freely cavorting and picking their food from open grassy fields.
Those EU standards are certainly not applied here. The latest regulation now allows a staggering 20 000 chickens per Ha (10,000 sq metres). That is one chicken per half a sq M. This in effect raises their stress levels to such an extent it results in cannibalism. No worries, the chooks are then de-beaked. This was demonstrated on the young pullets by putting their beaks into a feeding tube. Instead of getting feed, they get instantly de-beaked. Footage was shown of the young pullets with bleeding beaks.
If you thought the Australian Egg board would be keen to improve conditions for the poor chooks or at least comply with EU standards, think again. A quick scan through the list of directors reads like the who’s who of some of the largest ‘free range’ operators, egg marketers and producers.
Hardly a bunch of unbiased, independent operators keen on improving the lot for chickens. Their main aim is to improve profits not kindness to chooks.
In Sweden, where else, caged eggs have been banned. In many other European countries, main supermarkets, including Aldi, do not stock caged eggs anymore. At least the ‘free range’ eggs have the legislative back up of a maximum of 2500 chooks per Ha (1 chicken per 4sq metres). How come, after so much publicity of late about the plight of chooks, this hasn’t been implemented here? It makes one wonder if the caged eggs are not a better and more ethical deal here after all.
I just hope Tony Abbott hasn’t got his finger in the eggs, he’s such a freemarketeer.
Gerard blogs at Oosterman Treats Blog
- Outrage over egg industry’s definition of free-range (theage.com.au)