The Land NSWFA View - True cost of free range

The Land Newspaper
NSW Farmers View
31 October 2013

Bede Burke - Egg Producer Committee Chair

AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce has received criticism in some quarters about his recent  statements warning avian influenza (AI) outbreaks may be more common as a consequence of more egg farms going free range.

It's true - you need only to look at the Department of Primary  Industries (DPI) website to see the facts  on the matter.

The DPIstates AIhas been found in 90 species of wild birds  and also that ducks and geese are "the recognised spreaders of the virus."

The good news for humans is Australian ducks and geese are not migratory so the likelihood of other strains of AIcoming into  the country is low, however, in terms  of the risk  to birds, the strain that  specifically causes bird illness is present  in wild bird populations here.

This means  all bird  owners, backyard or commercial fanmers, need to practice disease prevention every day.

The DPI is clear on what this involves - simple and good housekeeping.

While egg farmers  will be well aware of what this involves, backyard owners  may not be - again increasing the risk of an outbreak as Minister Joyce alluded to and also proving why biosecurity is a shared responsibility for all the community.

This begs  the question whether consumers who enjoy on average 214 whole eggs a year - even more  if you add in the eggs in other food products- will be willing to pay more for the increased management required if more farms become free range.

Environmentalists would be familiar with the concept of the market only pricing what can be measured with the cost  of environmental considerations seldom included in the price  of goods.

It is the same for animal welfare and biosecurity measures  fanmers undertake - if the true cost  of these were included in the price then it would be inevitable the price at farm gate would rise.

If consumers are demanding more free range eggs it follows there will be more birds  outdoors in turn increasing the risk of exposure to
pests  and disease. Research  from the American Veterinarian Association confirms birds  in outdoor systems have a greater incidence of AI than indoor systems.

Rather than criticising Minister Joyce, it would be more pertinent for consumers to ask themselves if they want to continue to enjoy  this affordable protein.

Contact: Veneta Chapple

Phone: 0429 990 218

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