Egg Production and Animal Welfare
(Private Members' Statement, 20 October 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Sydney electorate is home to a large number of committed animal welfare supporters. Many of my constituents are disappointed by the 2036 deadline to end the use of battery cages in Australia's poultry industry, as set in the recent Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry. I join their call for the New South Wales Government to lead the way among the States and expedite the phase-out of battery cages as soon as possible. Like my constituents, I strongly oppose factory farming and the continued use of battery cages. This abhorrent practice sees hens confined to a space smaller than an A4 piece of paper for their entire lives. They are stacked in enormous sheds with tens of thousands of other birds and are unable to perform their basic natural behaviours, such as roosting, nesting, foraging and dust bathing. Birds cannot go outside to breathe fresh air or see sunlight, and suffer severe health problems, such as chronic foot lesions, feather loss and fractured bones. They suffer stress so acute that it can lead to cannibalism. That is not an acceptable price to pay for cheaper eggs.
The industry is currently governed by moral codes of practice that have not been updated for 20 years and that lack enforcement mechanisms. In 2008 the Government increased the minimum cage size by an area the size of a beer coaster. That half-baked reform forced farms to invest in new cages but did little to address the welfare of animals. In 2015 lengthy consultation began to review Australian poultry standards. Four years later, agriculture Ministers from all States and Territories commissioned an independent panel to devise new standards. The goal was to develop consistent legally enforceable standards that would be embedded in State legislation, providing clarity and reassurance to consumers and industry alike. This year those standards have been released. While I welcome the new minimum light, ventilation, and temperature parameters for all species, as well as a requirement to provide ducks with access to water, the new standards fall short of community expectations for battery cages.
The Commonwealth Government has wasted an opportunity to reform a stagnating and cruel part of the egg industry by setting a deadline to end the use of battery cages by 2036—some 14 years away. The people of New South Wales expect more. In 2019 the Select Committee on the Use of Battery Cages for Hens in the Egg Production Industry received 14,000 responses that were overwhelmingly supportive of an end to caged egg production. Voiceless states that an overwhelming 84 per cent of Australians want to see battery cages phased out. Consumers are increasingly avoiding caged eggs. They accounted for just 36 per cent of supermarket egg sales in the last financial year, and both Coles and Woolworths are in the process of removing them from own‑brand products. Arnott's, KFC and McDonald's are already cage-free across their global operations. Despite the clear rejection of battery farming by Australians, this country continues to lag behind on hen welfare.
The European Union banned battery hen farming in 2012 after a 13-year phase-out. New Zealand phased out cages this year, as did 10 other American States. Bar the Australian Capital Territory, where battery cages were banned for egg production in 2014, progress in Australia has been painstakingly slow. If the Australian Capital Territory can do it, why not us? At present, cage systems installed before the end of 2011 must be changed by 1 July 2032, while those installed after 2014 have until 2036. In that time, Animal Justice Party NSW estimates that more than 55 million individual hens will be confined to cages in torturous conditions. I appreciate that the transition cannot happen overnight. However, we also cannot allow the industry to keep pushing the finish line into the distance.
New South Wales is the largest producer of caged eggs in Australia, so we have the greatest responsibility to outlaw this cruel farming practice. The 2036 date is a limit, not a target. While stewardship from the Federal Government may be lacking on this issue, there is still room for the States to act of their own volition. I call on the New South Wales Government to expedite the ban on battery cages by drafting its own law to implement the national poultry standards and lead a coordinated effort among the States to do the same. The Government should take the opportunity to lead on this issue. We should not have to wait more than a decade to end the use of barbaric battery cages in our State.