Egg Corporation under full investigation by the ACCC
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is very interested in the workings of the egg industry and the peak industry body Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) and they have been investigating both for some time now.
Cartel allegations reported in yesterday’s media are far more likely to stem from the industry’s practice of killing hens to reduce numbers and subsequent numbers of eggs laid to control prices rather than just ‘forced moulting’ alone.
AECL CEO, James Kellaway, tried to justify the need to increase stocking densities for free range egg laying hens from 1,500 to 20,000 birds per hectare because of the need to feed a growing population, but two weeks later he ordered the destruction of 500,000 healthy layer hens. He met with producers and distributed this request to all egg farmers via an AECL Newsletter. Kellaway feared that prices would drop if swift action was not taken to reduce supply, and many small producers felt pressured to kill their hens.
‘Forced moulting’ is also a method used to manipulate the availability of eggs by taking advantage of the hens natural moulting cycle. All hens will moult naturally each year, usually as the days become shorter, and they will stop laying for a short period of time. ‘Forced moulting’ previously meant increasing the stress levels of the birds by starving them for up to two weeks to trigger the moulting response, but the Model Code of Practice frowns on this practice. Instead, producers shock the hens with rapid changes to their diet with poor quality food, minimal nutrition and restricted water intake, still resulting in malnutrition for the hens and a rapid loss of condition and feathers.
Either way, egg producers’ profitability revolves around these cruel practices that inflict incredible stress on the birds. Under our new government things could perhaps become even worse for the welfare of these hens as the Coalition has already announced that the previously proposed Office of Animal Welfare would impose too great a regulatory burden on producers.
“Consumers and hens deserve a better deal,” said HSI Director Verna Simpson. “With Egg Corporation, Government and supermarkets determined to bring an end to the true free range industry we are just thankful that ACCC is vigorously investigating and trust that this will bring much needed clarity to the market place.”