In September last year, as a result of a concerted campaign by Free Range Canberra supported by the Human Battery Cage project and the tabling of a Bill to ban battery cages in the ACT by Greens MLA Dr Deb Foskey, the ACT Government announced three measures “designed to phase out battery egg production in the ACT and change the egg-buying patterns of Canberrans”. The measures were;
an offer of $1 million in industry assistance to help Pace Farm change from battery farming to the barn method of egg production,
a pledge to source the eggs purchased by ACT government institutions such as hospitals and schools from barn or free-range producers,
an undertaking to write to your fellow Agriculture Ministers and heads of government ‘as a matter of urgency’ to get a national approach to phasing out battery farming onto the agenda for the next Ministerial Council and the next gathering of the Council of Australian Governments.
On the positive side, the change in the government’s purchasing policy for eggs is underway and is expected to be complete by May 2009.
But as for the other two measures, negotiations with Pace Farm have failed and Jon Stanhope has admitted that he has failed in establishing a national approach to a ban.
A ban on battery cages has the strong support of the ACT community. A local survey commissioned in September 2005 found 73% of respondents supported banning the cages. A WIN TV News poll last year resulted in an overwhelming 94% support for a ban.
The ACT’s only cage egg producer Pace Farm has shown that it is not committed to the long-term survival of its Parkwood facility. In response to the changes to regulations which came into effect on 1 January this year requiring caged hens to be given slightly more space (an extra centimetre in each direction), Pace have simply lowered their stocking rates rather than spend money to replace their old, filthy cages.
According to their Emission Report on the National Pollutant Inventory website, Pace Farm employs 14 people at Parkwood. Their annual rent for the 41.44 hectares on which their operation is located is a mere $486.
Pace Farm is clearly not an important industry in the ACT – but it is certainly a cruel industry. The Parkwood sheds were recently depopulated – i.e., the hundreds of thousands of hens who have spent the last 15 or so months in the cages were hauled out and passed hand-to-hand by their legs before being crammed into crates and transported for hundreds of kilometres in open trucks to be slaughtered.
The handling of the hens resulted in most of them suffering broken legs even before getting to the crates and, as has happened on previous occasions, hundreds were dropped or escaped from the cages and fell into the manure pits below the cages. Many of these hens drowned in the liquefied waste while others became bogged and were left to starve. The industry Code of Practice demands that such hens be retrieved on the same day – they were not.
There is a world-wide move away from inhumane battery cages. An EU-wide ban on the use of conventional battery cages for egg laying hens will be applied from 1 January 2012. The US state of California will vote in November this year on a proposal to ban the cages.
Over 150 US University campuses – including Harvard, Princeton and Tufts – have made the decision not to support the cruelty of battery hen farming while in this country, the University of Newcastle has decided to have all food outlets use cage-free eggs.
Three Tasmanian local councils (Hobart, Clarence and Launceston) have recently announced that they will only use eggs from free range farms at council functions.
Consumers and retailers are also moving away from cage eggs and embracing eggs from the more humane free-range system. In the UK, the sale of free-range eggs has risen by almost a third since the end of last year and in February more households were buying free-range eggs rather than caged eggs for the first time.
The Australian Egg Corporation Annual Reports show that the market share of free-range eggs in Australia rose from 20.3% to 23.4% in the 12 months to June 2007 while the sale of cage eggs dropped from 74.9% to 71.4% in the same period.
The world-wide move away from cage eggs is clear and irresistible.
When the three Government measures were announced Chief Minister Jon Stanhope stated that “if the offer of industry assistance was not accepted after negotiation with Pace and if advocacy at the national level proved fruitless the Government was prepared to revisit the issue of battery egg production in the future”.
Now is clearly the time to revisit the issue of a ban.