A consumer survey on attitudes to an increase free range layer hens stocking densities, released by the Egg Corporation late yesterday, is another example of the deceptive tactics used by the industry body to protect the caged egg industry, says Greens Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon.
The Australian Egg Corporation is proposing that standards for "free range" eggs are changed to define free range production as covering all production up to 20,000 hens per hectare. This is a massive increase from the current standard of 1500 hens per hectare.
"The Egg Corp has already run scare campaigns skewing published research, predicting price hikes and imported eggs flooding the market and claiming the benefits of caged hens. Now it has manipulated the views of a small group of 121 consumers in an attempt to legitimise its calls for higher free range stocking densities," Senator Rhiannon said.
"This consumer survey summary is slippery, gliding over concerns we know consumers hold about the Egg Corporation's proposed standard which it labels as "'free-range' on a more commercial scale"'.
"The Egg Corp has been talking about the 20,000 limit for years, yet only commissioned the research in October 2011, showing the research is a cynical attempt to legitimatise their plan to protect profits rather than respond to consumers' reasonable expectations of clarity around labelling.
Video showing proposed standard in play
"The Egg Corp took a very small group of consumers who admitted they are in the dark about what 'free range' means, shown them a video of hens in conditions meeting the Egg Corp's proposed standard and then asked them what they think of it. No alternate footage was shown.
Egg Corp consumer: It's hard to know because we don't often see these places, we only have what's in our minds.
"The research shows the Egg Corp is using consumers to justify its dodgy standard, not genuinely responding to consumer concerns.
"While acknowledging that consumers are confused about what stocking density and 'free range' means and that many expressed concern about the video footage, the summarised finding is that the majority were 'satisfied' with the conditions despite comments to the contrary.
Egg Corp report: While some considered the environment not to be completely their idea of free-range production, no-one thought that the hens were suffering.
Egg Corp consumers: It's darker inside than I would have thought. ..Why are they all inside...Where is their water?
Choice survey May 2012: Of the 900 surveyed less than 1% of respondents think the egg industry's proposed free-range egg standard meets their expectations of what free range means.
"Price concerns were noted in the report, but it is unclear how price considerations were pitched to consumers, leaving a clear opening for the Egg Corp to scare participants about potential price hikes.
"There are plenty of eggs already on the market from farms housing under 1,500 birds per hectare that cost nowhere near $10-12," Senator Rhiannon said.
Choice survey: Over half said they are willing to pay $3-$5 more per dozen for free range rather than cage eggs.
Egg Corp report: [Consumers]..would tolerate a $1-2 increase.
"Consumers were asked about their views of 'beak treatment' required by the new standard. It is unclear how the Egg Corp described this practice to participants in order to make it sound acceptable. The survey also played off animal welfare against threats of price increases to $10 per dozen.
Egg Corp consumers: It's certainly better than mulesing..I guess it's just like circumcision?..And they're not actually in pain".
Voiceless: [De-beaking] involves the practical removal or burning off of the upper and lower beak through the application of an electrically heated blade, known to cause acute and chronic pain due to tissue damage and nerve injury.
For more information:
Egg Corp consumer survey
Choice consumer survey
Senator Rhiannon with Egg Corporation in Senate Estimates
Egg Corp video shown to focus group
False Egg Corp claims re imported eggs and misinterpreted Scottish research