Report Synopsis

Alternatives to Cage Egg Production. Are they all they’re cracked up to be?

Robert Peffer

The Australian egg industry is quietly in a crisis.  Prices have fluctuated between solid and marginal over the past five years as diseases have impacted on the industry both domestically and internationally in countries as disparate as the United States (USA), Germany, Iran and South Korea.  Uncertainty about the direction of welfare legislation and free range stocking densities meant that some investments were put on hold in Australia.  That question was resolved by State and Federal governments in the Australian Consumer Law (Free Range Egg Labelling) Information Standard 2017 and ever since then significant investments into alternative egg production have been made, and continue to be made at the behest of certain powerful customers. 

Almost overnight, domestic supply exceeded domestic demand and the export opportunities of the past few years have not been available due to events in the USA, which have led to overproduction.  The compounding effect of a small percentage of surplus eggs each day has meant that eggs have been travelling around the country in a giant game of hot potato and no one wants to be left with the stock when the best before date is up.

Against this backdrop of short-term angst, questions about the long-term viability of each of Australia’s three official production systems (cage, barn and free range) remain.

Australia’s egg farmers can learn from the experiences of other farmers around the world and avoid the excesses of other markets around the world if they are united in their defence of using the best available technology and knowledge to ensure hen health is maximised, including modern Model Code-compliant cages.  The egg industry may need to embrace a more open and transparent mandatory traceability program to make it harder to mislabel eggs from one production system as coming from another. 

This report makes observations and recommendations about common challenges and management issues with alternative production systems. It recommends egg farmers show voluntary restraint in expanding alternative egg production; to only do so in response to consumer demand and when the long-term viability of a particular site has been considered, to, invest in rearing that mirrors a hens’ future production systems and contribute to industry training programs for the benefit of their organisations and the reputation of the industry as a whole.

 

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