Truth in Labelling (Free-range Eggs) Bill 2011

I strongly support the Truth in Labelling (Free-range Eggs) Bill, which would legislate the industry standard so that eggs sold as free range must be produced in areas populated by no more than 1,500 birds per hectare. The bill also introduces penalties for misleading information. I congratulate The Greens for bringing this much-needed reform to the House, in particular the member for Balmain who is accurately labelled Green, and for standing up for animal welfare and for consumers. This bill has strong and widespread support in the community, including within my electorate of Sydney. I am opposed to factory farming and mass egg, meat and poultry production, on animal welfare grounds. The suffering imposed on live, sentient, intelligent and social beings merely to reduce production costs is simply inhumane.

In the case of battery eggs, laying hens are crammed into tiny cages where they cannot act out their natural instincts to spread their wings, scratch the dirt, socialise or search for food. They live under artificial lights, eat pellets all day and often suffer from fractures and osteoporosis. Parliament has failed to protect these animals from lifetimes of physical and mental torment. The response from the Government against outright bans has been that it is up to the consumer, and that consumer choice must be preserved. This bill does not ban any form of farming method, but makes sure that those who do not want to support cruel egg production and are willing to spend the extra money to buy eggs produced by chickens raised in a humane way can confidently do so. This bill is about choice and the consumers' right to not be misled about where eggs they buy come from.

There is no question that some sections of the industry want to mislead consumers. The Australian Egg Corporation Limited has long pushed for the term "free range" to be used on eggs produced in areas of 20,000 birds per hectare. This is in stark contrast to the images that come to mind in response to the term free range—images of chickens roaming open grasslands, looking for insects, digging, and flapping their wings. Coles recently was found selling eggs labelled free range produced in areas of 10,000 birds per hectare, which it made its new free-range standard. Some eggs have been sold as free range from densities of up to 50,000 hens per hectare. While the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has expressed serious concerns about industry attempts to deceive egg consumers, its power to act is limited because labelling laws are lax, with free range having no legislated standard.

People should be free to use their consumer power to shape the market, but this is possible only if they can make an informed decision supported by accurate labelling. Also, producers who invest in more humane forms of farming should be rewarded for their practices. If cheaper eggs produced without the same animal welfare standards are allowed to use the free-range label, those doing the right thing will not be able to compete. The term free range will be devalued, with consumer confusion causing a drop in demand for humanely produced eggs. Some people will choose to boycott eggs altogether. This bill empowers consumers who do not want to support the appalling treatment of animals in the name of profit and encourages transparency and accountability for those consumers. It will increase business confidence for legitimate humane free-range egg producers. The bill should have multipartisan support. I commend the bill to the House.