Many Australians have moved away from purchasing cage-produced eggs.
And half the eggs sold in Australian shops are free range, however for economic reasons, commercial operators including restaurants and bakeries tend to purchase cage-produced eggs.
Poultry veterinarian Dr Rod Jenner – who has worked with Egg Farmers of Australia – said public perception of the lives of layer hens is quite different to his experience working in the industry.
“I’ve seen many birds in cages that are quite content, quite happy,” Dr Jenner said.
“Caged birds are less prone than free range hens to infectious diseases, some of which have no effective treatment.
“Of particular concern is avian influenza, which can be carried by wild water birds.”
If they come into contact with wild birds, ranging chickens can contract AI.
More than 460,000 hens were culled after an outbreak last year in Victoria.
“It’s a matter of time before it happens again,” Dr Jenner said.
“Do we accept that risk?
“Perhaps, but the consequences are horrendous.”
A consideration by the industry to implement furnished cages as a compromise between caged and free-range systems was suggested by Dr Jenner.
Larger than conventional poultry cages, furnished cages containing a perch, an area for nesting and possibly a litter, have been allowed for in the draft national plan.
“Furnished cages are able to provide all of those requirements for the good life of the hen,” Dr Jenner said.
However, Animals Australia chief executive officer Glenys Oodjes disagrees, believing that while avoiding the negative cage aspects, furnished cages can’t provide a positive experience for hens.
“Furnished cages could provide a nest, for example, but they couldn’t provide proper foraging and full exercise and certainly not dust bathing in the sun,” Ms Oodjes said.
“Supermarkets say ‘a cage is a cage is a cage’, which is why I don’t think in this context that eggs from cages will be acceptable to most consumers.”
Ms Oodjes is of the opinion that with the advent of plant-based alternatives, many people may choose to stop eating eggs altogether.