(FARM NEWS) AUSTRALIA — Recent legislation, such as the egg bill, concerning the welfare of farm animals has been contentious. Yet, due to the complex farm specifications and number of interest groups with similar names but different motives, consumers may have difficulty discerning as to whether their eggs are truly free-range. Recently, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruel Treatment to Animals (RSPCA) has accused the Australian Egg Corporation of purposely misleading consumers about the specifications of free-range eggs. Read on to learn more about the conflict between the RSPCA and the Australian Egg Corporation. — Global Animal

Photo credit: Stuart Mcevoy, The Australian

The Australian, Sue Neales

The RSPCA has accused the Australian Egg Corporation of deliberately misleading consumers over what constitutes a free-range egg.

The society yesterday called for the definition of a free-range egg to be restricted to one laid by a hen allowed access to both a shed and open paddock, kept at a density of no more than 2500 birds a hectare.

RSPCA scientific officer Melina Tensen said the eight-fold increase in free-range hen density being advocated by the industry-dominated Egg Corporation did not meet animal welfare standards or consumer expectations.

The Egg Corporation has been pushing for the density to be increased from the Australian code of practice cap of 1500 chickens a hectare of outdoor space, to 20,000 hens a hectare.

It claims there is no scientific research showing that 20,000 hens kept in large barns with access to a hectare of outdoor space have any constrained behaviour, such as limited dustbathing, foraging or scratching.

The claims have made the normally staid RSPCA furious. “The Egg Corporation should not be dictating the standards for free-range egg production; (its) role is to protect, promote and expand the profitability of the egg industry. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest,” Ms Tensen said.

The RSPCA said it would agree to an increased density for

free-range-certified farms of 2500 hens a hectare, provided birds were kept in sheds with easy access to an outdoor paddock or range, and that the ranges were rotated to ensure adequate fresh grass for foraging and cover from sun and rain.

Victorian free-range producer Vesna Luketic, who runs 20,000 hens on a 40ha Bacchus Marsh farm in small flocks housed in moveable sheds rotating around paddocks, believes the debate has lost its focus on hen welfare and consumer wishes.

Ms Luketic supplies more than 160 Coles supermarkets with free-range eggs, marketed under her Family Homestead brand.

“Just look around you; this is what a genuine free-range farm looks like,” said Ms Luketic, viewing grassy paddocks, green hills, alpacas and dogs to mind her hens and small, moveable huts where her chickens are never locked up.

More The Australian: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/rspca-steps-into-free-range-egg-row/story-e6frg6nf-1226356715868

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