Australia Is About To Ban Caged Eggs And Here’s What It Means For Your Omelette

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People won’t be able to buy caged eggs from the supermarket from 2036, because of a new national plan to stop the practice of keeping poultry in battery cages.

The new standards were recently handed down by the Independent Poultry Welfare Panel to the federal government, following increasing pressure to improve poultry welfare in Australia once and for all.

But already the plan has been criticised by animal welfare groups for being too slow, while industry people are concerned about the impacts it will have on food security.

Let’s Unpack The New Guidelines

Over the next 10 to 15 years conventional layer hen cages must be phased out.

The vague timeline comes down to how old infrastructure is. So, if a cage system was installed before the end of 2011, it has to meet requirements by 2032, and if the cages were installed after 2014, they need to be updated by 2036.

There is also a requirement to provide environmental enrichment for meat chicken breeders, like making sure all farmers meet the minimum lighting, ventilation and temperature requirements for all species, which most do anyway.

The Caged-Egg Vs Free-Range Debate

In Australia there are three main egg farming systems: free range, cage and barn-laid.

Cage egg farming came about in response to the fast-growing demand for eggs and the need to lower disease and mortality rates in free range eggs, by moving hens indoors. The modern structure of cage farming usually has multiple tiers, with a conveyer belt circling each level to catch and remove manure automatically.

Like with any industry, the welfare of livestock in Australia has been overlooked by a series of codes and conducts since the 1980s.

In 2002 a voluntary model code of practice specifically for poultry farming was brought into effect. It was in line with changing attitudes around chickens and all poultry needing a better quality of life. And fuelled the ongoing debate of free-range versus caged eggs — with caged farming copping a lot of the heat.

Animal activist groups are saying the 2036 phaseout is not good enough for the millions of hens in Australia that continue to suffer in cruel battery cages, but those working on caged farms disagree.

Victorian Farmers Federation egg group president Brian Ahmed told the ABC that the focus on regulations have become fixated on particular enterprise systems and popular opinions, which disregard “science-based assessments of welfare”.

Cage eggs are actually the cleanest of the three farming systems. They lower the risk of infection, hens are protected from predators like foxes, and there are fewer occurrences of diseases found in eggs — all at a relatively low cost too.

It has also been found that caged hens aren’t any more stressed than free range.

Consumers And Caged Eggs

But what can consumers’ behaviours say about the matter? Roughly $16 million eggs are produced everyday for the domestic markets, and half of those eggs go to supermarkets. 52% of all grocery retail sales are now free range eggs.

If we look at the prices across Australia’s top supermarkets, caged eggs are always cheaper, sometimes significantly, so sometimes buying free range isn’t always an option.

There are also predictions that without the $2.7 billion eggs produced from the current caged system between 2023 – 2025, there will be major egg shortages, and prices are likely to go up.

While the new standards are expected to be across all states and territories, further discussion between agricultural ministers will take place next year.