Egg farmers call out RSPCA

The Victorian egg industry has hit out at the RSPCA over an inappropriate letter sent to farmers demanding a voluntary end to the practice of caged eggs.

In the letter, from RSPCA CEO Heather Neil, farmers were advised the animal welfare group wanted a commitment from the egg industry to end the use of conventional cage systems.

“I think Heather Neil forgot she was actually talking to people who have experience with these systems and the welfare outcomes for these birds,” Victorian Farmers Federation Egg Group President Tony Nesci said.

“We’re the ones who know that her push to ban cages is based on opinion, not facts.”

Ms Neil claimed in the letter that: “contemporary science indicates that the welfare of hens is severely compromised in conventional cages”, while in other systems any adverse welfare outcomes could be managed with good stockman skills, a statement Mr Nesci said was based on opinion, not fact.

“The RSPCA is running around making claims that hens suffer inside cages, but the truth is, birds in cages suffer just 2 to 3 per cent mortality, compared to free range at 15 to 25 per cent,” Mr. Nesci said.

“They claim that 50-60 per cent of the industry is free range when 70 per cent of the industry is caged. Their information doesn’t stack up and it is underhanded to create instability by circumventing the poultry welfare standards setting process.”

The letter left open an offer to discuss “a reasonable phase out timeframe” for conventional caged systems, after the RSPCA earlier in 2017 threatened to boycott consultations to introduce a new poultry welfare standard if the national organisation representing egg farmers – Egg Farmers Australia – didn’t commit to a voluntary phase out.

“It’s like she thinks that our national body doesn’t know what farmers want, but our national body is there to represent our industry, and that’s who the RSPCA should be corresponding with, not farmers,” Mr Nesci said.

Mr Nesci said the egg industry was committed to improving its practices through the poultry welfare standard process.

“The RSPCA had all of 2016 to contribute to the process and flag the science they wanted looked at, just as we were given that opportunity through Egg Farmers Australia,” he said.

“They didn’t get the result they wanted because the science isn’t there.”