A national meeting of agricultural ministers held in Western Australia last week saw the collective ministerial endorsement of the updated Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry (S&G).
The Queensland Farmers’ Federation and our member, Queensland United Egg Producers, are carefully considering the national update to the S&G and the potential impact on respective farmers and consumers more broadly.
The update to the S&G, which governs the way hens are cared for on egg and poultry-meat farms, has been met with mixed reactions by egg producers following what has been approximately 11 years of deliberation and uncertainty for the egg and poultry industries.
As part of the update, conventional cage egg production will be phased out, with each state now left to decide the timeframe for this transition, leaving cage egg producers in limbo without a definitive deadline.
The egg industry has consistently requested a 2046 deadline but unfortunately, the decision to not provide a set date for the whole of Australia now means individual states will be left to determine their own parameters, which has not met the egg industry’s calls to have a unified approach.
Whilst industry is relieved the process is finally reaching a conclusion after years of uncertainty that has led to poor investment and shortages for the egg industry in Australia, it is now critical that clarity and clear direction is provided to both impacted farmers and to consumers.
Phasing out cage egg production too quickly or unnecessarily will place significant strain on producers who are already battling increasing input costs, workforce shortages and supply chain delays, while trying to meet market demand.
At the same time, consumers across the country are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and eggs remain one of the best, and most affordable, sources of protein. A premature or hasty end to cage egg production will see consumers faced with higher prices and potential supply shortages for eggs going forward.
Currently, caged eggs make up about 50 per cent of the nation’s total egg supply. Australian and Queensland farmers lead the world when it comes to animal welfare, animal health and biosecurity, and improvements continue to be made through on-farm best practice and technology advancements.
It is important that we balance further enhancements to our farmers’ track record as global leaders in animal welfare and husbandry, with ensuring a sustainable future for food production that enables affordable access to fresh food for all.
Our initial discussions with government show a genuine willingness to work with industry on a good outcome for all but major retailers have the power to potentially derail positive negotiations, with Coles and Woolworths stating they will phase out cage eggs in their supermarkets by 2025. So, even if state governments are willing to work with industry, the hard deadline being forced on industry and consumers by the big retailers will be extremely problematic.
Eggs are a fantastic protein source with about 260 eggs eaten per person in Australia every year. We cannot underestimate how important eggs are to the nutritional needs of families across the country. There remains strong demand for cage and barn-laid eggs as an affordable source of high-quality protein, however, if retailers continue calling the shots, the impacts will be felt by both farmers and consumers.
QFF calls on major retailers to reconsider their timeframes. We strongly support industry’s request that due consideration is given to a sensible phase out deadline. This is an important decision with significant implications for many, let’s get it right.