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Pressure to Lift Poultry Standards

06 May 2013

AUSTRALIA - Australian and New Zealand primary industry ministers will consider increased regulations and enforcement measures over battery hen production, following a push by ACT Greens minister Shane Rattenbury.

According to The Age, Friday's Council of Australian Governments primary industries ministerial meeting in Sydney resolved to begin development of a national animal welfare standard for poultry, with Mr Rattenbury calling for lower quotas of birds per hectare in farms.

Mr Rattenbury said: ''The current 15,000 birds per hectare is not an acceptable standard, with 30 per cent of farms labelling their eggs as free range keeping higher than 20,000 per hectare.''

The push for enforcement and better information for consumers follows the introduction of a Greens bill to phase out battery hen production in the ACT.

Introduced in March 2012, the bill would make it illegal to keep hens in a cage system in the ACT from 1 January 2014, and would require the responsible minister to push for better national standards.

Mr Rattenbury said it was the first time a Greens member of Parliament had been present at the meeting of the primary industries council, bringing ''new ideas and new arguments'' to the group.

He welcomed release of the communique, which outlined 11 key issues affecting primary production, including foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land, biosecurity legislation and the development of a national food plan.

''The ministers have adopted a new approach to drought-related programs, which seeks to provide assistance to farms before a drought strikes and helps make the farming sector more resilient,'' he said.

''It's all about getting farmers better tools and skills and more capacity to deal with challenges as they come about.''

The agreement with state and territory governments will see the national drought program reform help landholders prepare before the arrival of dry conditions.

The controversial exceptional circumstances scheme will be removed, while funds for state and territory-administered low-interest loans for farmers will be introduced.

Household support payments and farm business training will also be increased.

With dry conditions returning to many parts of Australia and as much as a third of Queensland already drought-declared, National Farmers Federation vice-president Brent Finlay said farmers did not know how the new policy would work.

''What they still do not know is the framework under which each of these elements will be made available, what eligibility criteria apply, and what in-drought support, if any, will be applicable to them,'' he said.

Mr Rattenbury said the medium-term climate outlook for the Canberra region was unclear on the level of drought risk.

ThePoultrySite News Desk

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