Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act Regulations
PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS ACT REGULATIONS
Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [5.29]: The Government is presently in the process of adopting new regulations to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act governing cage sizes for egg-production fowls. The new regulations will provide that cages containing one fowl require a minimum floor area of 1,000 square centimetres; cages containing two fowls a minimum floor area of 1,350 square centimetres or 675 square centimetres per bird; and cages containing three or more fowls the minimum floor area is 1,450 square centimetres except where the average weight of the fowl is 2.4 kilograms or more, in which case the requirement is for 600 square centimetres per fowl. Where the average weight is less than 2.4 kilograms or 5¼ pounds - and I assure the House there are not too many laying hens kept in batteries who weigh more than 5¼ pounds - each hen has a total floor space two-thirds the size of a piece of A4 paper. To give honourable members an opportunity to realise the size we are talking about, this piece of paper I am holding is the size of the floor space required for hens that are kept in these condition.
I have grave reservations in relation to the floor space allowed for battery hens under the new regulations, but at least they seek to impose a minimum standard in relation to the keeping of battery hens for egg-producing rather than simply relying on a code of conduct which, I believe, has been largely ignored over the years. It might be said there have not been too many prosecutions. The reason for that is self-evident. The only way to collect evidence that the code was being ignored would be to have people trespass on the site to gain that evidence, and that in turn would leave them open to charges of trespassing. I am concerned about the general question of the keeping of battery hens. Hens kept in these condition are never able to do anything other than stand on a thin, sloping area of wires. They are unable to nest, perch or forage, which is their nature. They are kept in conditions that require them to stand still in the one place, day in and day out, night in and night out. The average wingspan of a fowl is something like twice the space allocated in this area of 450 square centimetres that I have demonstrated to the House. I consider that treatment is completely inhumane.
I had the opportunity, with my wife, to look at one of these facilities in the northern Illawarra. It was a very sickening experience indeed to see fowls with their heads stuck up through the top wires, unable to move, with hardly a feather on them, and with the top of their beaks removed to prevent cannibalisation. I purchased half a dozen of these hens one time and we had to physically teach them to walk. They did not know how to stand up when they were put on the ground. They did not know how to eat food. They were things they had to learn. After a period of six months they had mingled in with the other fowls I keep and were able to live something like a normal life for the rest of their time. But most of the hens that come through the battery system do not have that opportunity and at the end are subjected to an inhumane way of disposal - either slaughtered for use as boilers or disposed of in some other way.
I consider I am competent to comment on this subject because I am a poultry bird keeper and I have won a number of prizes with my fowls, including a blue ribbon at the Royal Easter Show. Because of increasing awareness by the public of cruelty to battery hens, I believe more and more people would be prepared to pay an estimated 10¢ per dozen more for eggs which are known to be produced by poultry farmers using free-range methods. I call for the phasing out altogether of battery hens as soon as possible. In the meantime, as a member of the Regulation Review Committee, I call for the introduction of stringent regulations in relation to the deceptive and inaccurate egg-packaging labelling and for all egg cartons which contain eggs produced by battery-cage hens to be clearly and legibly labelled as battery-cage eggs.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [5.34]: I commend the honourable member for Kiama for his stance on this important animal welfare issue which he has championed for some time. I can assure the honourable member for Kiama he has my support and sympathy on the issue of truth-in-labelling when it comes to egg sales. On the point he raises about free-range eggs, the free-range egg producers have formed an association called the Free Range Egg Producers Association. This association has reviewed earlier guidelines for the production of free-range eggs. Standards have been formulated that are now appropriate to the concept of free-range egg producers, consumers and animal welfare considerations. The Free Range Egg Producers Association and the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury, have developed a system for inspection and accreditation of farms producing free-range eggs.
The production of eggs needs to comply with the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals endorsed by the Australian Agricultural Council. On well-designed free-range farms rearing their own stock a family could manage 6,000 birds but would need help with packaging and pick-up. A typical free-range shed holds 600 birds. The shed is moved to provide access by the birds to fresh pastures at all times. As honourable members are aware, there is considerable concern that the amount of eggs currently on sale with the words "free-range" or "barn" far exceed those eggs actually produced under free-range or barn conditions. Because of this, I assure the honourable member for Kiama I will liaise with the Minister for Fair Trading to ensure truth-in-labelling. An amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (General) Regulation took effect on 1 January 1996 and introduced the minimum cage sizes, which the honourable member brought to the attention of the House.
I am sure all honourable members would like to see the end of cage or battery egg production. However, the economies of the situation do not allow it in the short term. I believe we could certainly drive reform in the industry if consumers knew, by looking at the egg packaging label, that they were either buying battery hen produced eggs, barn eggs or free-range eggs. I support what the honourable member for Kiama has said and I will continue to keep this House informed of the progress on this matter.