News that one of Australia’s biggest pork producers has been fined a record $225,000 for cruelty has been
welcomed by the RSPCA.
“This horrific case of abuse of farm animals has finally reached its proper conclusion with the courts
acknowledging the seriousness of this incident and imposing a fine of the level not seen before in Australia for
similar cases,” said RSPCA Australia President, Lynne Bradshaw.
The Westpork piggery, based in GinGin Western Australia, was initially charged in 2009 with cruelty under the
Animal Welfare Act 2002 after an employee blew the whistle on appalling conditions in which pigs were being
Westpork pigs were being housed in filthy conditions with manure and urine piled so high that some became
sick and drowned with surviving pigs eating their carcasses.
Westpork has up to 40,000 pigs on their farm at any one time and supplies around 30 per cent of the local pork
“This is just too sickening for words,” Mrs Bradshaw said today. “Apart from the shocking suffering of these
animals, WA consumers will no doubt be appalled to know where some of their pork has been coming from.
“This fine reflects the community’s expectations that farm animals bred to supply us with food should be treatedhumanely.”
Ms Bradshaw praised the Department of Local Government, which brought the charges against Westpork, and
the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia for their support.
She also questioned the suitability of Westpork General Manager Neil Ferguson to be overseeing the welfare of
“Clearly, there is a management culture there led by Mr Ferguson that has no regard for the welfare of animals,”
Mrs Bradshaw said.
“If Westpork does not completely change its culture now, I see consumers voting with their feet and walking
away from Westpork products.
“The type of practices that have been in use at Westpork and the fine imposed reflects the growing disquiet in the Australian community about the abuse of farm animals.”
A piggery near Gingin has been fined $225,000 for not euthanising 10 sick pigs.
Westpork received the fine in Perth Magistrate's Court today after the pork producer pleaded guilty to 10 charges relating to breaches of the Animal Welfare Act.
The charges were laid by the Department of Local Government in January 2011 after inspections of Westpork's "grow out" facility the year before.
The charges alleged the 10 sick animals should have been euthanised sooner rather than be treated.
Westpork Chairman Dr Robert Wilson said the charges did not allege neglect but related to the management decisions taken to care for the animals.
John Ruprecht from the Department of Agriculture and Food said the case served as a reminder to industry about the importance of adhering to animal welfare standards.
“The result sends a clear message to the commercial sector that it needs to put appropriate systems, processes and training in place to ensure all livestock are managed and treated appropriately,” Mr Ruprecht said.
“That means businesses have to plan to incorporate and maintain animal welfare practices and standards as part of their overall operation.”
Dr Wilson said all the animals had been earlier identified by staff and segregated for treatment or ongoing monitoring as set down in the Care of the Compromised Pig Guide.
Dr Wilson said the charges did not allege neglect but related to the management decisions taken to care for the animals.
“It is unfortunate that these animals were not euthanised earlier," he said in a statement.
Mr Ruprecht said inspections had been done since the charges were laid and the department was satisfied the pork producer had addressed the animal welfare concerns and put appropriate systems in place.
Dr Wilson said Westpork farms operated under the Australian Pork Industry Quality Program and were managed under a veterinarian-approved Herd Health Plan administered by trained stockmen.
He said all farms were independently audited for quality assurance three times a year.
Westpork was also ordered to pay $21,000 costs.
THE ACCC will today declare open season on "free range" and other claims made by premium food makers.
In a major speech in Sydney, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims will announce the ACCC's seven priority areas for 2013.
Many are the same as last year, but Mr Sims will say that "new to our priorities is an interest in credence claims, particularly those in the food industry".
Notes for his speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia say: "Consumers are increasingly placing weight on premium claims made by producers that a consumer cannot test or validate.
"They are in the hands of the producer, leading to a particular vulnerability."
Mr Sims will highlight the ACCC's ongoing concerns about "free range" eggs, country of origin claims and the labelling of olive oil.
In November, the ACCC said it planned to reject a trademark certifcation application by the Australian Egg Corporation because the proposed rules would have allowed eggs to be called "free range" even though chicken densities would be "very significantly higher than those in existing standards" and that beak trimming would have been "routinely practised".
The ACCC's other priority areas are:
ONLINE consumer issues, particularly fake testimonials and problems with group-buying sites;
DODGY tactics by door-to-door sellers representing energy retailers;
FALSE claims by telecommunications and IT companies;
FURTHER building awareness of consumer guarantees such as statutory warranties;
PROTECTING vulnerable indigenous consumers;
UNFAIR contract terms, with a special focus on telcos, airlines, hire-car companies and online traders; as well as
UNJUSTIFIABLE price hikes blamed on the carbon tax.
Last night, Mr Sims told News Limited that success in each of these areas would be one of the two yardsticks by which the ACCC should be measured in 2013.
The other mark would be whether the ACCC doubled to six the number of major legal actions for alleged misuse of market power, cartel behaviour or anti-competitive agreements.
The two most high-profile of 20-30 investigations the ACCC currently has open both concern the big supermarket chains. One relates to alleged misuse of market power to the detriment of suppliers and the other is probing the competitive impact of expanded shopper docket petrol discount schemes.
Supermarket Coles' new standard for free-range eggs looks set to run foul of the national consumer watchdog with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declaring that eggs produced at intensive farms do not deserve the label ''free range''.
While not commenting directly on Coles - whose new free-range standard is 10,000 hens per hectare, almost a seven-fold reduction in space from the voluntary guidelines - ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the watchdog believed 10,000 hens per hectare was not consistent with consumers' understanding of free range.
Ms Court said the commission was ''very concerned'' the egg industry was trying to redefine ''free range'' to ''increase their own profitability'' without regard to consumers' views. ''The ACCC is concerned about the redefinition of what is meant by free range by industry to suit itself, and the fact that the redefinition has the very real potential of misleading consumers,'' she said.
The egg industry is spending millions of dollars renovating caged-hen facilities and building new state-of-the-art intensive free-range systems to meet Coles' new standard. Industry sources expect Woolworths and Aldi will follow Coles' standard - if it is accepted by the community and regulators such as the ACCC - leading to a redefinition of free range in Australia.
Coles says its standard - which allows free-range farmers to run sheds of 30,000 hens - is the only way to deliver affordable eggs to consumers. The supermarket chain says it is drawing a line in the sand after the industry admitted it had been running free-range hens at densities of 50,000.
In response to the ACCC's comments, Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said: ''Our stocking density is far better than most of Australia's free-range egg production, which typically comes from farms running at double or even triple the stocking density that Coles allows.''
Fairfax Media revealed on Monday that Animals Australia and the RSPCA, previously supportive of Coles' efforts to improve its egg range had questioned whether eggs from intensive free-range systems could be called free range.
Monash economics professor and former ACCC member Stephen King said without a legally enforceable free-range code, Coles had done nothing wrong. But the ambiguity over free range was ''a government failure''.
SWAN Valley Egg Farm has lost its appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal to keep its egg producing operation.
WA’s biggest free-range egg producer has one year to reduce chicken numbers at the Bennett Springs farm from 80,000 to 24,000.
Last August, the WA Planning Commission ordered farm owner Barry Cocking to reduce the bird numbers and to remove additional sheds built without City of Swan approval.
Previously, Mr Cocking has said he would neither sell his business nor move it out of the area .
“We will fight this to the highest level and we will win because we have a right to farm,” he said in February.
But Mr Cocking said last week he had accepted the conditions after he reached a mediated agreement with the tribunal.
“We have one year to reduce bird numbers to 24,000 and I will not continue further legal challenges,” he said.
He declined to make any additional comment, including what he would do to dispose of the additional 56,000 chickens.
City of Swan chief executive Mike Foley said the mediated agreement was a good outcome.
“The time frame gives Mr Cocking time to implement the reduction and it allows the Swan Valley Egg Farm to continue trading while restoring the amenity of the area for residents of the surrounding rural residential properties,” he said.
Neighbour Norma Nolan said residents were pleased Mr Cocking would have to |reduce his operation.
“While a mediated outcome is a practical outcome for everyone, it’s a shame that the process has gone on for so long for Mr Cocking to operate within these approved |parameters,” she said.
“The disappointing thing for us is many people have seen the residents’ complaints against him as putting Mr Cocking out of business, but we just want him to operate within the law and for us not to have been affected by the smell and the dust and other negative impacts of him operating beyond those approvals.”
Cracks in free range plan
Peak industry body, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL), has bowed to increasing consumer scepticism about its quality assurance guidelines which would have approved free-range farms running as many as 20,000 hens a hectare.
Critics of the high stocking rate believe AECL was jolted into withdrawing its trademark plan after a big pre-Christmas fine was imposed on a NSW duck producer convicted of falsely advertising its shedded poultry as free-range.
The maximum stocking density advocated by well-established free-range egg producers is about 1500 birds/ha - a standard that has also been reinforced by law in Queensland - while some industry purists insist on stocking densities below 700/ha.
AECL's application for a certification trademark had intended to provide consumers with a national benchmark that recognised a recently enhanced Quality Assurance (QA) program across the industry.
The QA program for cage, barn-laid and free-range eggs was developed during three years of consultation with scientists, egg producers, regulators and the broader community.
Its aim has been to set minimum egg production standards for hen welfare, food safety, farm biosecurity, environmental stewardship and egg labelling.
"However, in response to concerns from some members of the community regarding three of the 171 minimum standards in the proposed QA program AECL has decided to withdraw the application," the corporation explained in a statement released just prior to Christmas.
It said some structural elements of the program and "other observations" had helped mould its decision to halt the trademark program, which had been proposed for a late 2012 launch.
In November the egg corporation copped a stern warning from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which questioned whether the trademark was misleading.
ACCC received more than 1700 submissions about free-range eggs - most of them challenging the perceived high stocking capacity proposed for farms which qualified for free-range certification.
It said the accreditation did not appear to fit consumer expectations of free-range farming and the consumer watchdog was unlikely to approve the trademark.
Many free range producers also hope the ACCC will go further and start legal proceedings against some free-range producers who are believed to be running significantly more than 20,000 hens/ha, or are substituting cage or barn-laid eggs to meet the fast rising demand for free-range lines.
Vocal Victorian campaigner against AECL's plans to make 20,000/ha a maximum standard for the industry, Phil Westwood, said the ACCC had already indicated its intentions pursuing a NSW duck producer in the Federal Court over misleading "open range" claims.
On December 19 Windsor-based Pepe's Ducks was ordered to pay a $375,000 fine for advertising and packaging claims about its ducks being raised on the "open range" and "grown nature's way".
Pepe's ducks had been grown in barns and were not allowed outdoors.
The ACCC said the fine was a win for enforcing honesty in poultry industry advertising where consumers wanted labels to be "true and accurate".
Eggs labelled free-range have been fast gaining market share, now representing 30 per cent of Australia's 13 million daily egg sales.
But Mr Westwood believed about a third of those eggs may be sourced from intensive free-range farms carrying up to 40,000 chooks/ha or more, or farms keeping hens in barns most of the time.
He said submissions to the ACCC showed most consumers believed free-range farms should running less than 1500 hens in grassy grazing conditions, not bare paddocks or big sheds with limited outdoor access.
"I know a lot of big egg producers want to be able to produce massive volumes of eggs just as they do with cage facilities, but I don't think there's any room for the AECL to make compromises here," Mr Westwood said.
"In fact, 1500 hens/ha is already a significant compromise."
He said many mid-sized cage egg producers also strongly opposed AECL's big free-range capacity plans because it would encourage a flood of cheap free-range eggs on the market, forcing cage egg prices down to compete for market share.
Margins were already slim for many egg farmers supplying the major brand names and generic supermarket labels, and getting tighter as electricity and feed grain costs rose.
AECL said at this point it still intended to submit a new trade mark application after reviewing issues raised and making any necessary amendments to the minimum standards.
It noted there was no opposition to the standards for cage or barn-laid egg production in the new QA program.
Pepe's Ducks to pay $400,000 arising from false, misleading and deceptive conduct
Pepe’s Ducks used the phrase ‘open range’ from 2004 to 2012 and the phrase ‘grown nature’s way’ from 2007 to 2012 on its product packaging, website, delivery vehicles, signage, stationery and/or merchandise, often in conjunction with a pictorial representation of a duck in the outdoors walking on grass against a background of a lake with hills behind.
Pepe’s Ducks is a leading supplier of duck meat products (with approximately 40% market share), and supplied around 80,000 ducks per week in Australia in 2011. The phrases were part of an important promotional message used by Pepe’s Ducks and were communicated to a large number of wholesale and retail customers of duck meat products.
“Consumers must be able to trust that what is on the label is true and accurate. This penalty is a warning to businesses to make sure they are not misleading consumers into paying a premium for products that don’t match the claims made on the label,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“Traders who abuse the trust of Australian consumers in this way expose themselves to enforcement action."
In addition to penalties and costs, the Court declared by consent that Pepe’s Ducks, by its conduct, had contravened provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (formerly part of the Trade Practices Act), and made the following orders by consent:
an order restraining Pepe’s Ducks for a period of 3 years from using the phrases ‘open range’ or ‘grown nature’s way’ on its product packaging, website, delivery vehicles, signage, stationery and merchandise (save for a limited exception relating to supply to certain wholesale customers by 17 February 2013 of certain pre-packaged frozen products). The Court also restrained Pepe’s Ducks for a period of 3 years from using the pictorial representation it had previously used without the words 'Barn Raised' prominently displayed in close proximity to the pictorial
an order that Pepe’s Ducks implement a trade practices compliance program by 1 February 2013 and maintain it for a period of 3 years; and
an order that Pepe’s Ducks provide corrective notices to its customers and on its website and business premises.
The ACCC welcomes the Court orders and notes that this decision continues its focus upon protecting consumers from misleading statements regarding food production methods. For example, on 19 December 2011 the Federal Court made orders against Turi Foods Pty Ltd (trading as La Ionica) in relation to misleading representations made by La Ionica that its meat chickens were raised and grown in barns in which the chickens had at all times substantial space available allowing them to roam around freely, when this was not the case. The orders included an order that La Ionica pay a civil pecuniary penalty in the amount of $100,000.
- Ms Meg Macfarlan, Media, (02) 6243 1317 0408 995 408
- Infocentre 1300 302 502
Release # NR 274/12
Issued: 19th December 2012
The key element of the trademark relates to the use of the term “free range” for eggs. The supporters of the trademark have been fighting back. In my view, the ACCC is right and the AECL is wrong.
There are currently a range of uses of the term “free range” for advertising eggs to customers. The words mean something. The benchmarks used by the ACCC were the dictionary definition of the words, existing standards put up in both legislation and by other farming bodies, and the submissions to the assessment. Let’s ignore the latter and assume (as The Land article does) that these are all biased chook-huggers.
The standard of stocking in the AECL trademark is given in paragraph 46 of the ACCC initial assessment:
Outdoor stocking density can be up to 20,000 birds per hectare
This number is significantly more than other approaches to the term “free range”. There is a model code of practice that has the stocking density at 1,500 birds per hectare. There is Queensland legislation that states:
A person must not keep more than 1500 laying fowl in a hectare in the outdoor range of a free range system.
The same stocking density for free range eggs is incorporated into legislation currently before the NSW and SA parliaments. There are other standards set by bodies such as the RSPCA and the Victorian farmers federation as well as overseas bodies. Indeed, of twelve other comparisons, the highest number for stocking density reported by the ACCC is 2,500 hens per hectare for ‘free range’. So the AECL is out by a factor of eight!
The ACCC concludes at paragraph 142:
The ACCC is therefore concerned that the AECL Standards governing free range egg production … has the potential to mislead or deceive consumers.
The AECL’s attempt to weaken the meaning of the term “free range” is just one example of an all-too-common practice. Individually, sellers have an incentive to devalue words in their promotions in order to raise sales. This can lead to a race to the bottom, where the meaning of the words gets reduced until they are meaningless. But this harms all sellers as devaluing language reduces the ability to communicate with customers. That is why we have standards and these standards benefit sellers as a whole, even if individually they would like to ‘cut corners’ on language.
So the party that should really feel aggrieved by the AECL attempt to devalue the term “free range” is the egg farmers themselves. If the AECL standard is approved, then it simply means that the term “free range” is devalued. Egg producers who want to distinguish their product will have less ability to do so and there will be a race to the bottom in terms of production quality and price. And turning eggs back into a commodity product does not benefit egg farmers.
Egg producers should be thanking the ACCC for protecting their standards. And they should be telling the AECL in no uncertain terms to “back off” from devaluing their ability to differentiate their product.
An earlier version of this article was originally posted at Core Economics.
'Misleading' free range label rejected
- by: SUE NEALES Rural reporter
- From: The Australian
- November 03, 2012 12:00AM
THE Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has rejected an application by the egg industry to approve a label or stamp purporting to assure consumers they are buying are free range.
In an unusual step, the ACCC told the Australian Egg Corporation it was concerned its submitted description and proposed standards of how egg laying-chickens would be housed would misled consumers, as it did not match their perception of what is a free-range chicken or free range egg.
The move has sparked renewed calls for a national standard to be enshrined in law clearly identifying what constitutes a chicken kept in "free range" conditions.
The ACCC recently fined an Adelaide egg producer for selling eggs laid by caged or by battery hens as free range.
It also fined one of Australia's largest chicken producer Turi Food $100,000 in January for falsely labelling meat sold under its La Ionica brand as from "free to roam" chicken. There is a similar case pending against Steggles in the federal Court.
The Egg Corporation's rejected submission to the ACCC proposed that eggs from hens kept in barns at a density of 20,000 chickens to the hectare, with a few holes in the wall offering the option of outside access, be approved to be legally described as free-range.
Currently the voluntary Australian standard sets a maximum outdoor stocking density for free range eggs of 1500 birds per hectare, or 13 times less dense than the maximum proposed by the Egg Corporation.
Queensland is the only state which has legislated this limit, while the ACT has regulations around labelling. Legislation capping stocking densities has been introduced by opposition parties in NSW and South Australia.
A survey by Choice consumer organisation in May found that less than 1 per cent of 900 respondents thought the industry's proposed free-range egg standard met their expectation of what free range means.
ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said such a rejection of an application for a trademark to be used as guaranteed quality assurance label, like the Heart Foundation's health tick, was rare.
She said it was now up to the Egg Corporation to decide if it would submit another proposal with improved standard in the next month, that the ACCC might deem to be less likely to deceive consumers.
Ms Court said it was not good enough to describe hens as free range that were largely to be housed densely in large barns, with access to outside, while available, practically impossible because of the large numbers of hens.
The ACCC also said the inclusion of the need to debeak birds in the Egg Corporation's free-range application, was also an indication that the hens would be closely confined.
Only chickens kept in restricted spaces need to be debeaked, to prevent them pecking each other; an indication according to animal behavouralists of unnatural conditions.
"This is all about what a consumer perceives to be free range, when they buy eggs that says that on the carton," Ms Court said yesterday.
"We know consumers think that means a hen that is kept on an 'Old MacDonald's' type farm' where it pecks and scratches outside in the green grass with the sun shining surrounded by trees and with access to water.
"And the egg companies encourage that perception with all the labels and pictures of happy hens in green grass on the outside of the egg cartons labelled as being free range.
"But the standards proposed by the Egg Corporation would not allow chickens to live like that; instead they would mislead and consume consumers about what is 'free range."
Choice welcomed the ACCC's decision, saying it send a clear message to the Egg Corporation that its attempt to set a stocking density that bore no relation to consumer expectations was unacceptable.
"People are clearly paying a premium for these eggs, yet their expectations of contented clucking chooks roaming around open green pastures aren't always a reality," said Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just.
The Greens said the decision validated their claim that the proposed standards submitted by the Egg Corporation as free range constituted a "scam" and a cynical attempt to abuse customers' trust .
"In Australia locating a genuine free range egg on the supermarket shelf is harder than finding hen's teeth," said Greens animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon.
Free range eggs are the fastest growing sector of the industry, with sales increasing by 24 per cent a year and now making up nearly half of all sales.
Egg Corporation managing director James Kellaway said the proposed new quality assurance system was all about providing consumers with the "confidence to choose eggs from production systems according to their budget and preference".
The Egg Corporation has in the past warned consumers that the price of eggs would double if battery or caged egg-laying hens are phased out because of consumer preference and free range chickens have to be housed at rates of less than their proposed 20,000 birds a hectare.
ACCC has concerns over Australian Egg Corporation's proposed free range trademark
- by: KAREN COLLIER
- From: News Limited Network
- November 02, 2012 8:32PM
MILLIONS of eggs marked "free range" are laid by hens that rarely roam outdoors, animal welfare groups claim.
Humane Choice chief operating officer Lee McCosker accused big businesses of trying to hijack the term "free range" to jack up profits.
The welfare organisation and consumer body Choice are calling for a consistent national rule for genuine free range egg labels amid fears shoppers are being hoodwinked into paying a premium.
Producers can stock up to 100,000 chickens per hectare and still promote their products as free range, Choice spokeswoman Ingrid Just warned.
"People are clearly paying a premium for these eggs, yet their expectations of contented clucking chooks roaming around open green pastures aren't always a reality," she said.
The comments follow an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission initial assessment rejecting an Australian Egg Corporation Limited push for a new free range egg certified trademark because it may mislead consumers.
A final decision will be made in coming months.
The watchdog said the proposal to cap outdoor stocking densities at 20,000 hens per hectare - compared with 1500 per hectare in several other voluntary schemes - clashed with community expectations and could mean only a small proportion of birds actually ventured on to the range at any one time.
The proposed rules also did not prohibit chicks having their beaks trimmed with a hot blade, laser or infrared technology.
Free range is the fastest-growing egg category. About 43 million dozen free-range eggs are sold in supermarkets annually, one-third of the market.
AECL figures show that 29 per cent of all free range eggs produced, including those sold to restaurants and other food services, were produced at farms with stocking densities of at least 20,000 hens per hectare in 2010.
AECL managing director James Kellaway denied claims its proposal would leave hens largely cooped up indoors.
"We will continue to work with the ACCC to ensure the trademark certification is achieved for the benefit of consumers, industry and hen welfare," he said.
Ms McCosker said a stocking density of 20,000 hens per hectare was about the equivalent of two birds in a shower recess.
There is no nationwide single definition of free range eggs.
Rather, a national model code for animal welfare adopted by some states, and a number of voluntary schemes, exist.
Pork producers argue about free range standards
A split is emerging among pig producers about accreditation systems for free range pork.
The Humane Choice group has accredited more than a dozen pig farms in Australia.
The latest farm to be accredited is Minniribbie Paddock in South Australia and features a kindergarten with toys to keep the pigs entertained.
But with more Australian pig farmers interested in supplying free range pork, there's debate about whether this standard is practical and viable across the industry.
Lee McCosker, chief operating officer Humane Choice Free Range; Dan Florance, pork producer, Kangaroo Island, South Australia; Andrew Spencer, chief executive of Australian Pork Limited
- Poultry Industry Association withdraws certified trademark application
- South Australian egg supplier Rosie's Free Frange Eggs fined for selling cage eggs advertised as free-range
- ACCC calls for Consumer comment on free range
- Call for comment reveals cracks in new free range egg label plan
- Free Ranging Approach to Obeying Code
- ACCC begins Federal Court proceedings against Rosie's Free Range Eggs
- La Ionica Pays For Misleading Label
- RSPCA stamp 'dupes buyers'
- Outrage over egg industry's definition of free-range
- 'Free to roam' poultry producers taken to court