In Senate Estimates Senator Rhiannon asks the Australian Egg Corp, which represents 400 commercial egg producers, what represents a 'free range egg' and their approach to labelling. Read the full transcript.
Senate Estimates - Monday, 11 February 2013
RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Australian Egg Corporation Limited
Mr James Kellaway, Managing Director
Dr Angus Crossan, Program Manager, R&D
Ms Yelli Kruger, Program Manager, Marketing
Mr Kai Ianssen, Communications Manager
Ms Heather Palmer, Project Manager
CHAIR: I welcome officers from the Australian Egg Corporation Limited.
Senator RHIANNON: Let me start off with the issue about the withdrawn application for a certification trade mark that included a free-range egg definition of 20,000 birds per hectare. Is the ACL researching the possibility or intending on making another CTM application that includes either ownership of a CTM that includes any reference to the labelling of free-range eggs or to stocking densities of laying hens above 1,500 per hectare of outdoor area?
Mr Kellaway: We are taking stock of the issues raised in the initial assessment published by the ACCC as relates to our CTM application. We want to do justice and show respect to the issues that were raised. They were raised reflecting a portion of the community, in our mind, and we want to review the 171 standards, or at least those standards pertaining to stocking densities, prior to resubmitting. Our intention at this stage is to resubmit, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: When do you plan on resubmitting?
Mr Kellaway: There has been no set date or time to that extent but suffice to say that we are working through a number of the issues raised in the initial assessment including convening the Hen Welfare Forum-and we want to include this group in this process-in April last year with about 30 to 40 people including scientists, government, certainly animal welfare interest groups and egg producers, as it relates to working through some of these issues that have been raised in the initial assessment.
Senator RHIANNON: So that is the Hen Welfare Forum, is it?
Mr Kellaway: That is correct.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it on your website or can you provide who is on that and their positions?
Mr Kellaway: We can provide who is on that, yes, thank you.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Given the AECL's stated support for 'reliable and consistent labelling to ensure consumers may make informed egg-purchasing decisions' and also the record number of submissions-I think about 1,700-opposing your application, what actions will you undertake to ensure these eggs are in fact labelled to meet consumers' expectations of free-range production systems and that labelling does not mislead or deceive your valued customers?
Mr Kellaway: As a corporation we are passionate about truth in labelling and transparency. It is for that reason that we are reviewing some recommendations that we will put to industry for egg producers to consider as part of their own business-to be more transparent in terms of the key issue that came out of the CTM application process, which is stocking densities in free-range farming systems. From that perspective we are considering that and seeking legal advice.
Senator RHIANNON: How would you sum up what you are saying about being more transparent to the players in the industry? What do you say to them? What is transparency for you?
Mr Kellaway: Addressing the issues that have been raised by the community and/or through the CTM application process in terms of informing consumers and making more information available as it relates to the production system of those eggs.
Senator RHIANNON: On your website you say you represent about 400 commercial egg producers.
Mr Kellaway: Three hundred to 400.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. How many of those producers run free-range production systems that would meet consumer expectations of 1,500 birds per hectare of outdoor area?
Mr Kellaway: We do not have that number. Suffice to say that in 2010 we did an anonymous survey of egg producers. It was a voluntary survey, and to that extent we got a fairly good understanding of the demographics of industry as it relates to stocking densities. Not all responded to that survey; as I said, it was voluntary and anonymous in nature. It showed that there were egg producers stocking in excess of 20,000 hens per hectare but there were also egg producers stocking at around 200 to 300 hens per hectare. What we took from that-and certainly in terms of the consumer research that we have subsequently undertaken where we polled over 5,000 consumers of our ABS cohorts-is that we are servicing a highly varied marketplace. As an industry in its totality, I think we need to be able to service that highly varied marketplace.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering that you have undertaken this survey and your job is to work with the different levels of the industry, why was it an anonymous survey? Why don't you survey everybody?
Mr Kellaway: We did survey everyone, but not everyone responded.
Senator RHIANNON: Why did you choose for it to be anonymous?
Mr Kellaway: Because we thought that would be the best way to get the biggest survey return from that questionnaire that we sent out?
Senator RHIANNON: How big was the return?
Mr Kellaway: I would have to take that question on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. What level of support do you provide for these producers? What are they getting from you?
Mr Kellaway: We undertake marketing and research and development activities and programs on behalf of industry as per an industry agreed strategic plan over a three-to-five-year period. We undertake an annual operating process each year to respond to that strategic plan; so, to that extent, the core business is marketing and promotional activities to build demand but also research and development to increase productivity on farms.
Senator RHIANNON: You just talked about an industry agreed plan. What do you do to ensure the smaller, free-range producers' concerns are represented there?
Mr Kellaway: In that planning process there are many stages, but we firstly start with a questionnaire to all egg producers to see what their priorities are in their business as it relates to research and development and also marketing and promotion. We then invite all egg producers to a workshop to work through the outcomes of that questionnaire to try to prioritise and allocate what the key issues are that we as a company with our limited budget can actually address over the length of that plan. That is the process we go through. All egg producers are invited to respond to the questionnaire and all egg producers that we know of are allowed to attend the workshop.