Monday, April 04, 2016

A foul decision for fowl

Let us begin with battery farming of chickens for eggs. It is outlawed in the state of California, Michigan is phasing out battery farming by 2019 and the largest producer of eggs in the US, Ohio has a moratorium on the construction of new battery farms.

The UK has met the EU target of phasing out battery cages and EU countries that haven't are under threat of legal action. This article from which this information comes may be out of date and perhaps battery farming has stopped in the EU. Switzerland banned battery cages in 1991.

Our Australian Capital Territory, where our capital Canberra is located, has banned battery farming, although it only covers a small area. Tasmania has banned new battery farms.

In every other Australian state it is free for all with animal rights activists at times getting into egg farms and showing us our truly awful they are. I won't put the vile photos they have taken here. They are quite sick making.

Now, I don't buy cage or barn eggs, only free range and I have been duped. Isn't this something like what we imagine in our heads to be free range? 


After years of back and forth, finally the federal government has made a decision and it is an awful decision.  Our CSIRO, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, mostly publicly funded but has done very well out of inventing wi-fi, after comprehensive research concluded that a reasonable definition of free range was stocking rate of 1600 chickens per hectare, about 2.5 acres for you non metricated types. A hectare is 10,000 square metres That gives hens just over 6 square metres of space, or nearly 11 square feet. That sounds quite reasonable to me. (Later correction. The recommendation may have 1500, but I am not doing the arithmetic again).

Strangely, the decision was left up to State Ministers for Consumer Affairs led by NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello, and Federal Minister Minister for Small Business, Kelly O'Dwyer. They decided, not 1600 but 10,000 chickens per hectare was reasonable and that is pretty easy to work out, a square metre per chicken, three square feet per chicken. You may well imagine each of the 10,000 chickens standing in their own square metre space, but if you know anything about chickens, that is not how it works.  I suppose it is better than in battery cages where they each have a space the size of a sheet of A4 paper.

I expect the above mentioned ministers have brought upon themselves some very bad karma. As a sop to those of us who care about animal welfare, and don't all my readers?  the egg cartons will be labelled with the stocking rate of the free range farms.

So how was I duped? I was buying free range eggs at the local green grocer where they were a good bit cheaper than supermarket eggs. The were from from the company South Gippsland Eggs and guess what their stocking rate is? Yes, 10,000 chickens per hectare. Our current brand is Heritage Free Range Eggs, but I am unable to discover anymore than the company's Lang Lang address. I expect the worst though. Clearly we are going to have to pay more for low density stocking levels and I am prepared to do so to ensure the welfare of chickens.

There is a good chart here at the Choice consumer affairs website if you want to check how your free range eggs compare.

25 comments:

  1. We saw that. And dammit our 'free range' eggs aren't either. More investigation required. We may have to start getting our eggs from the Farmer's Markets after interrogating the vendors.

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    1. EC, I read of one vendor at a Farmer's Market say she always sold out of her very low stocked egg farm, unless it was heavily raining. Labelling the stocking density is the only good think that is in the rules.

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  2. Every time I go to buy eggs it is the one visual thought that goes through my mind .. How the chickens were kept. I was always suspicious of the free-range tag.

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    1. Carol, I guess many of us were but we did not want to believe our trust in the labelling was misplaced. Our doubtful consciences were quite correct. We will now have no excuse.

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  3. A very good topic. It is criminal how hens are treated AND how we are dupedIt happens all the time. I recently found out that blue berries from New Zealand (on the package) are actually imported from China(where they are grown in sus fertiliser) and packed in NZ.

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    1. Diane, I think there were also some new rules about labelling, and not before time. That New Zealand rort applies to many things, where consumers are quite mislead. I think farmed fish from Vietnam is one of the worst. The water fish are reared in can be quite disgusting.

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  4. diane b, the birds are currently enjoying all my frozen berries from China.
    I buy my eggs from Kangaroo Island, expensive but worth it for the hens but now I don't want to find out if they have the proper range for their chickens. How can they go from 1600 to 10,000 and think that's reasonable ?
    And I was furious to find that our tomotoes were picked here and sent to Italy to be canned.

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    1. Jah Teh, the big egg producers wanted an even higher figure. Honestly, I would have thought a figure after negotiation might have been 3,000. I did send a curt email to Ms O'Dwyer. Much as I would like to say you are joking about tomatoes, bitter experience tells me you are not.

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  5. Free Range eggs these days are not like farm eggs either. Farm eggs, really rich yolk, large eggs with the proper egg taste. Oh, how I wish Free Range Eggs were like that.

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    1. Margaret, you are quite correct and I expect only the smallest egg producers can turn out eggs like that, and there are some, but they usually sell at farmers's markets. We as individuals can make a difference, but so many eggs are used in cafes etc, so that is something to watch for.

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  6. I saw this article on TV and wondered where my eggs come from. I'll check your chart and see if the brand is one there. The carton does say one hen per 6 square metres. I pay $5.99 for ten eggs.
    Margaret-whiteangel is right; free range, although better than battery eggs, still aren't as good as farm eggs. I remember when my daughter kept chooks and would bring me the most delicious, most orange-yolked eggs I'd ever seen.

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    1. River, given the price you are paying, I expect the hens who produce your eggs are well cared for. Consumers do like orange yolked eggs, but they are not necessarily the best. Pale yolks can be very good too.

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    2. I think the stronger coloured yolks indicate a good amount of iron rich greens in the hen's diet, which is why I prefer them.

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  7. My eggs are on the chart, they're in the 1500 per hectare list, Maclean's Run. I buy Kangaroo Island eggs sometimes, but they're popular and often sold out. Tasty too.

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    1. That is the caring person's, the CSIRO and Choice's stocking rate recommendation and I think a good number to abide why.

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  8. Andrew,
    With all due, etc., etc., your math seems to be slightly deficient. Given the old rhyme used in the UK to educate us - 'a metre measures three foot three, so it's longer than a yard, you see' a square metre is actually about ten-and-a-half square feet - three and a bit times three and a bit. Likewise, six square metres is, in real money, three feet and a bit by three feet and a bit, six times, or a tad over sixty-three square feet, not eleven. I wonder if I should be surprised that no-one else has picked this up - the comments suggest this can be an emotive subject and people often don't question what they are told when emotions are involved.
    Pedantics apart, however, one square metre per chicken seems pretty reasonable while ten is surely overkill - about as crowded as the MCG at 3am on a Monday morning. it seems to me a reasonable compromise density would be around the 4,000 to 5,000 per hectare mark.

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    1. Chris, I just knew someone would check my calculations and point out that they are wanting. You have justly criticised me and my only defence is that I thought it was an important subject, I am not a journalist and don't have time for accuracy (not that they do either), and I churn out stuff in a limited time every day. No excuse really, but as you suggested, it is all about emotion, and the post is about cruelty and the disparity of numbers. I'd wear 4000. As I expect you would also know, it is about time outside and rotation to different areas, but it makes for a long and complicated post then.

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    2. I'm not very good at a 'gentle heads-up' but that, rather than criticism, was all that was intended. I agree completely with all the points you and others make about how we treat chickens, and, indeed, so many animals that we depend on. As ever, it all comes down to the quick buck and the wool pulled over consumers' eyes.

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  9. I need to check what I have in the fridge... but thanks for the link, I will definitely bookmark this for future reference.

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    1. Fen, there are so many such things to worry about, but choosing a low bird density for free range eggs is not a hard one.

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  10. Excellent post choice dear CameraFace. We cannot patronise those who torture animals.
    Lucky me out in the bush where there are farm-gate eggs to buy, but when I can't get those I do go to evil Coles that does stock the genuine free range Family Homestead eggs and I gladly pay the $9. When food is cheap, the animals get less care [I believe meat SHOULD be expensive].
    Eggs have every vitamin except D.

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    1. Eggs don't have vitamin D? I thought it was vitamin C they don't have. No matter, Aussies get plenty of sunshine, so they get their Vitamin D that way. Unless they stay inside 24 hours a day. I've read somewhere that 15 minutes a day of sunshine is enough to keep your Vitamin D levels strong.

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    2. Ann, I am with you about meat. The price needs to reflect all costs, including environmental.

      River, I don't know but I get plenty of sun yet I am Vitamin D deficient.

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  11. I first saw the suffering of caged chickens at the religious college I attended, when I stumbled into their poultry barn, thinking it would be quite wonderful and humane. Instead, I saw chickens so crammed together in tiny cages, I bolted out, sickened and quickly stopped eating eggs, and asked the church pastor there why on earth a church run college would allow for such cruelty. I got no decent answer whatsoever outside of mumbo jumbo that god gave us animals to use, which caused me to commence the eye rolls and "give me a fricking break" response. Currently here free range chicken labels are so bogus, just means they're not in cages and may be crowded onto filthy floors.

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    1. Strayer, at least we will have the information on the egg cartons to make our own decisions. As I said, some of your states are getting there and then the dominoes will fall.

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