AECL controversial caged egg quote?? Photo: FacebookCaged egg farmers have been slammed for trying to get consumers to believe that “if the hens aren’t happy, they won’t produce eggs – it’s as simple as that”.
n Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) and Egg Farmers of (EFA) were criticised after they published and sponsored a Facebook post featuring a caged egg farmer – as part of the ‘Your Eggs, Your Choice’ campaign – making the contentious statement.
Facebook users called it “propaganda”, raising issues about confinement, broken bones and early deaths, but the industry and the lobby groups defended battery cages, pointing to lower disease and mortality rates.
The RSPCA said it was concerned the egg industry was making a “scientifically inaccurate” claim based on the belief that battery hens aren’t suffering and their production of eggs was proof of this.
“Reducing our understanding of welfare to basic biological function is misleading,” said its CEO Heather Neil.
“There is a level of disease or distress that a hen must experience before she stops laying eggs … however, hens can survive day-to-day conditions which negatively affect their welfare, but do not affect egg-laying ability.”
Generally, layer hens are crammed into wire cages that are 40cm high and given no more room that the size of an A4 paper. They can’t stretch their wings or exercise, leading to bone and muscle weakness.
The debate over caged eggs is heating up with the development of new welfare standards for poultry which, for the first time, will provide the basis for implementing consistent legislation across the country.
The RSPCA, which has threatened to boycott the process because of what it says is a lack of independent scientific reviews, says the Facebook post was another sign the industry was overlooking the evidence and the community’s expectations in order to maintain the status quo.
“We’re surprised and very concerned that AECL, an organisation that claims to lead research and development on behalf of the egg industry in , would publish such a scientifically inaccurate claim,” said Ms Neil.
Rowan McMonnies, AECL’s managing director, said the farmer who made the statement – Danyel Ahmed of LTs Eggs in Victoria – was expressing an opinion based on her experience and shouldn’t be interpreted as “hens that produce eggs have any and all of their welfare needs met” or “a hen that is not well looked after will lay zero eggs”.
“Science tells us that in all farming systems, good farm management is the key to hen welfare and there is a link between hen stress levels and productivity [and] if the bird’s well-being is affected so will its productivity.”
Dr Jean-Loup Rault from the University of Melbourne said science currently showed that poor egg production probably meant bad welfare and unhappiness, but good production didn’t necessarily mean there was good welfare.
“They can be very unhappy, in which case they won’t lay eggs, but they may lay eggs and not have the optimal or maximum welfare state or happiness,” he said.
The Facebook post, which was shared and sponsored by EFA, has since been deleted.
One follower, Sigrid Emma-Jade, wrote: “Hens lay regardless of stress and even lay more in stressful circumstances. You must think the general public are pretty dumb, hey?”
Another user, Olivia Green, said: “There’s absolutely nothing right or natural about spending your life in a confined metal bin with your head poking out a gap in the top.”
Issues of the maceration of day-old male chicks and the slaughter of 80 week-old layer hens were also raised.
John Dunn, chief executive of EFA, said: “We appreciate the constructive criticism and … are committed to responding to consumer concerns [and] working to create more transparency”.
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