AUSTRALIA - A farm that supplies eggs to Australia's biggest egg producer has again been accused of multiple animal welfare breaches by an animal rights group.
Last year, Pace Farms was fined $3,000 for overcrowding in cages at the farm in Corowa, New South Wales.
Now the animal rights group Animals Australia claims hens are still living in appalling conditions and there are more hens per cage than regulations allow.
A complaint, supported by extensive visual evidence, has been lodged with the RSPCA.
Animals Australia said that dozens of birds, many in poor condition, were discovered abandoned in manure pits below the cages, without access to food or water.
The severely de-feathered animals appeared to be surviving on scraps, beetles and eggs.
Animals Australia said people will be shocked to learn that this facility is part of the egg industry's quality assurance programme, Egg Corp Assured, an endorsement that assures consumers that eggs are 'produced under strict guidelines' and with regard for 'hen health and welfare'.
However, while decrying cruelty to hens, the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd said that it believes the footage in the videos is old.
"That twice in fourteen months this facility has been found overstocking birds in cages, shows why industry auditing systems cannot be trusted," said Animals Australia Campaign Director, Lyn White.
"This case not only reinforces the cruelty of the battery cage but reveals why independent auditing is desperately needed given the ongoing failure of industry and government to enforce even the most basic standards."
The Australian Egg Corporation (AECL) said it does not support, in any way, farming practises resembling those in this footage nor the implications inferred in the footage and media article.
AECL is taking urgent action to ensure the farm complies with the industry quality assurance program, Egg Corp Assured (ECA).
AECL said it believes this footage is not current.
“It is a pity the footage wasn’t brought to AECL’s attention immediately for verification and checking. However we believe it has previously been brought to the attention of the RSPCA,” a spokesman for AECL said.
ECA farms are independently audited by third party certification bodies, such as SGS Australia and the BSI Group ANZ Pty Ltd, and are conducted annually. ECA also conducts unannounced or ‘spot’ audits and verification audits of ECA farms.
To be an ECA licensee, egg farmers agree to and must abide by the scheme rules and audit criteria. Egg farmers can and have had their ECA licence revoked if they are found to be non-compliant and do not take steps to rectify any non-compliance issues in a timely manner.
AECL takes this type of claim seriously and is acting swiftly in the interests of all ECA licensees and participants.
Animals Australia said animal protection groups are united in their call for the battery cage to be phased out.
"Continuing to confine millions of birds this way in Australia is indefensible, especially when other countries have long recognised and acted on this cruelty."
"You cannot look at these poor hens crammed together and morally justify the lives they are forced to lead. We bring these birds into this world only to suffer. Cage eggs may be cheaper, but it is the birds that are paying a dreadful price.
Animals Australia said the promised review of the battery cage is four years overdue, adding that in the absence of a ban, the only way Australians can ensure they are not supporting this type of cruelty is to not buy cage eggs.
This case is currently under investigation by the RSPCA.
ThePoultrySite News Desk