18 July 2018 | Online since 2003

7 September 2012

Australian Egg Corporation accused of cover-up

The Australian Egg Corporation (AECL) has been accused of a cover-up in its bid to push through new regulations setting the external stocking density for free range units at 20,000 birds per hectare.

Under the current Australian code of practice the external stocking density on free range units is limited to 1,500 birds per hectare. As the Ranger reported previously, AECL wants free range egg producers to be able to stock at the rate of 20,000 birds per hectare - 10 times the 2,000 birds per hectare limit imposed on producers in the United Kingdom. In promoting its case for increased stocking, AECL quoted from research carried out at Scottish Agricultural College (SAC). However, SAC has denied that the research quoted by AECL supports the case for stocking at 20,000 birds per hectare.

Now, free range producer Phil Westwood, who as president of the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia Inc and spokesman for the Free Range Farmers Association Inc is leading a campaign against the proposed increase in the stocking rate, has accused AECL of a cover-up after failing to publish the results of a consumer survey which indicated that just seven per cent of 5000 consumers believed a density of 16,000-20,000 hens could be classified as free range.

The survey was conducted in 2010 but the results were not published on the corporation's web site until July this year, after a follow-up survey in May had produced a more favourable result - 84 per cent support for the 20,000 hens per hectare density limit.

Phil Westwood said that AECL had repeatedly told free range producers that there was public support for the increased stocking rate, despite knowing at the time that fewer than one in 10 people deemed it acceptable. ''By refusing to release the data earlier, they prevented egg producers from fully participating in the consultation process, which led to the development of the disastrous Egg Standards Australia proposal. We think the 20,000 hens per hectare is nonsense and it is not supported.'' Phil Westwood told the Ranger, "They hid key information from members so the consultation was effectively worthless."

AECL's James Kellaway has rejected the accusation of a cover-up, saying the 2010 survey was done before the corporation had completed its global literature review of welfare science and standards and this influenced its decision to conduct a second survey. But AECL already faces a battle to gain a certification trade mark for the proposed stocking density after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) insisted on public consultation over the proposal. AECL had hoped to introduce the new standard and use the trade mark by the end of June, but the ACCC wrote to interested parties asking them to comment on the egg corporation's standards before it considered the new trade mark.
Phil Westwood believes that opponents of the proposal are winning the battle. "We are confident that the Egg Corp's application for a trade mark for its new Egg Standards Australia will be rejected by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission because of the huge volume of objections and adverse comments from the industry and consumers."

Phil said that AECL had suffered another setback as a result of an article published in its own newsletter. "It casts real doubt on the sustainability of the proposed stocking density," said Phil. "James Kellaway is rather embarrassed by the article and he says he didn't read it before publication. We reckon that its dynamite and destroys any remaining credibility the Egg Corp has."
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is expected to make a preliminary position statement on the issue shortly.


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