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Cage egg phase-out timeline ‘unachievable’, WA peak body says

A plan to phase out cage eggs in WA within 10-years is “unobtainable, unachievable and unaffordable” according to the head of the State’s peak body for commercial egg producers.

The controversial plan was outlined in the new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry, which aim to improve animal welfare and provide nationally consistent regulation.

The standards — which are voluntary, and up to each State and Territory to adopt — include a proposal for conventional battery hen cages to be phased out within 15 years.

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, who has welcomed the proposal, recently told Countryman a 10-year phase out would be “more credible”.

But Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA president Ian Wilson said industry was pushing for a 2046 deadline, and would seek compensation from the Government to help with the restructuring process if the phase-out occurred any earlier.

“More discussions are needed but the 10 years that’s being proposed is unobtainable, unachievable and unaffordable,” he said.

“We’ve already got a situation of empty shelves in the supermarkets, and to take away all the cage eggs over time, without any assistance to build new facilities, is going to be catastrophic for consumers.”

Mr Wilson said CEPWA was committed to working constructively with Ms MacTiernan, with whom he had held “preliminary discussions”, to “come to a better understanding of the impact and ramifications of any decision”.

He estimated about 35 to 40 per cent of eggs produced in WA were laid by battery hens.

“We’ve seen no evidence of any cage eggs being left on the shelves when there’s a shortage, so consumers are happy to take them when there’s no alternative,” he said.

Battery hens account for about 35 to 40 per cent of all egg production in WA.
Camera IconBattery hens account for about 35 to 40 per cent of all egg production in WA. Credit: Wayne Taylor/Fairfax

Debate over the proposal — revealed on August 19 — has been heating up in recent weeks, with the Opposition demanding the State Government clarify how and when a phase-out would be implemented in WA.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Colin de Grussa said it was vital WA producers were “not lumped with a national system blind to local nuance”.

If implemented without “proper consideration of the specific circumstances of WA’s egg industry”, he said a phase-out could “severely impact” the financial viability of poultry farms.

“The McGowan Government needs to be clear about how and when it proposes to transition to the new standards, and how it will ensure they are fit for the WA industry,” Mr de Grussa said.

“It is difficult for producers to plan ahead and ensure the viability of their businesses if the McGowan Government is not transparent with them about the future of their industry.”

Speaking in parliament last week, Ms MacTiernan said DPIRD was working with CEPWA to ascertain how many WA producers would be affected, what the transition would look like, and how much it would cost.

“The Standards call for a phase out of conventional chicken cages by 2032 for all cages installed before 2012, through to 2036 for all cages installed after 2014,” she said.

“We know the vast majority of the conventional cages being used in WA were installed well before 2012 and will therefore need to be phased out by 2032 under the new Standards.”

Ms MacTiernan said the transition away from caged egg production was already underway, with Australian Bureau of Statistics data from WA showing a decline from 58 per cent of the industry in 2015-16 to 36 per cent in 2021-22.

“And we know the large supermarket chains have commenced the process of phasing out caged eggs, with more planned by 2025,” she said.

Mr de Grussa said the planned phase-out presented a “huge challenge” for WA egg producers, who were already dealing with “critical workforce shortages and rising input costs”.

He also called on the Government to “come clean” with consumers on the price rises and supply challenges a cage egg ban would cause.

“Despite a long-term shift away from caged eggs to free range products, there are still a large number of WA families and businesses who rely on caged eggs to provide a cost-effective protein source,” Mr de Grussa said.

The new standards were approved by an independent panel appointed by then Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie and all State and Territory counterparts in October 2019.

State and Territory agriculture ministers are expected to meet with Federal counterpart Murray Watt early next year to discuss next steps.

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