Revised at 4:45pm on Tuesday 31 July 2012
Consumers paying more for free range chicken may soon be tricked into buying factory farmed products if proposed new trademarks are approved, according to animal protection institute, Voiceless.
A collective of chicken industry heavyweights is attempting to hijack the ‘free range’ label and apply it to birds stocked at up to 140,000 per hectare.
Australian Poultry Industry Association (APIA) is a consortium of the largest poultry meat producers in Australia, supplying chicken and turkey to supermarkets and home brands as well as fast food outlets such as KFC and Red Rooster.
APIA has put forward an application to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) proposing misleading free range labelling trademarks to take advantage of consumer preferences, poach the genuine free range market and advocate poor animal welfare behind an ethical label.
In the proposed APIA Standards, up to 140,000 chickens--or 60,000 turkeys--could be crowded into each hectare and the resulting products would still be allowed to be labelled as free range.
Specifically, APIA is requesting permission to force 13 chickens or 28kg per square metre of available floor area for naturally ventilated sheds, or 14 chickens or 30kg per square metre of available floor area for mechanically ventilated sheds.
This number more than doubles the current Humane Choice True Free Range Standards and the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia Limited (NASAA) Organic Standard, which require no less than one square metre for every five chickens (including the roosting area) and no less than one square metre for every two turkeys on ground.
“Labelling such crammed conditions as free range is a highly deceptive use of the term that would shock consumers who expect better,” said Ruth Hatten, Voiceless Legal Counsel.
Consumers rightly assume that free range farms provide natural conditions for chickens.
Yet APIA Standards allow producers to deprive chickens of sleep with artificial lighting for up to 20 hours each day (a practice said to increase productivity), with only four hours of darkness required.
In stark contrast, Humane Choice requires a continuous nocturnal rest period without artificial light of at least eight hours.
“Birds that do not receive decent rest periods and darkness present major health issues such as Sudden Death Syndrome and various leg disorders, while birds also suffer from chronic lack of sleep,” said Hatten.
APIA Standards also require killing birds through cervical dislocation or breaking the animal’s neck, a method not approved by the Humane Choice Standards. Concerns around cervical dislocation have been raised with evidence of birds responding to stimuli for up to four minutes after dislocation.
In light of the sheer number of birds that APIA wants to stock at each facility, such methods carry heavy consequences for the welfare of potentially millions of birds.
Further, the ramifications of the APIA Standards being approved could be devastating for the current free range market and its consumers.
“A recent Voiceless survey found 91% of Aussies surveyed consider animal welfare when making their food buying decisions, proving that animal welfare is a matter of difference for consumers,” said Hatten.
“Should the APIA Application be approved, there will likely be unfair competition between businesses that are producing genuine free range chicken and turkey meat products and those that produce in accordance with the APIA Standards.”
APIA’s biggest members are large integrated companies, including Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd and Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd (owner of Steggles) who together supply approximately 70% of meat chickens marketed in Australia.
This body does not represent the genuine free range farmers market and therefore should not be allowed to advertise its proposed standards as anything other than factory farming.
“Should the ACCC approve the APIA Application, there will be another set of standards in place that will only lead to further confusion on behalf of consumers as to the true meaning of free range,” said Hatten.
The ACCC is currently holding a public consultation on the Australian Poultry Industry Association Certificate Trade Mark Application with submissions closing Friday 3 August 2012.
Voiceless strongly encourages consumers to submit their opinions to the ACCC.