Federal and state agriculture ministers will meet this morning in Perth to discuss the future of the egg farming in Australia and the potential to bring forward a phase out of cage eggs.
Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry currently recommended cage eggs be phased out by 2046, which could be brought forward today to 2036, as recommended by an independent government review.
Australian cage-egg producers will demand government compensation if the country's agriculture ministers decided to shut down the industry.
Nationals leader and shadow Agriculture Minister David Littleproud believed today's meeting could mark an earlier end to the industry, but said decisions on animal welfare would be up to the individual states to make.
With the majority of Australia's egg production in New South Wales and Queensland, Mr Littleproud told Sky News that ministers in those states needed to consider things carefully, as he hoped they had the conviction to support egg producers who made investments to prepare for a phase-out by 2046.
"They'll have to bear that cost, and I fear that unfortunately the supermarkets will try and use this as well if it is imposed and not all those costs of the increase will actually be borne by the consumer," Mr Littleproud said.
"I suspect farmers will have to bear some of this, and that's not fair."
This comes after the two supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths pledged to remove cage eggs from their stores by 2025.
"We announced our plans to transition our entire egg range to cage-free back in 2013 and we're working closely with our suppliers to gradually phase out cage eggs from all the brands we sell by 2025," a Woolworths spokesperson said.
Currently, cage eggs make up 50 per cent of Australia's egg production.
Egg Farmers of Australia chair Bede Burke said farmers needed extra time to adjust.
"As it stands, the new draft guidelines mean this phase out would be a decade early and that could financially ruin some family egg farms," he said.
"If the document is not changed, then cage-egg farmers would expect state government compensation - just like the seafood industry obtained when their livelihoods were ruined by new state rules."
Mr Burke said there was concern the early phase out could cause egg shortages.
"If they don't [delay the phase out], the ministers better start budgeting millions of dollars for compensation packages to help cage farmers transition into new egg production methods or exit the egg industry altogether," he said.
Victoria Farmers Federation egg group president Meg Parkinson said the changes would hurt the financially vulnerable.
"There are a lot of consumers who are short of money nowadays and they look for the lowest costs they can," she said.
"The lowest cost is usually the cage egg because it's the lowest cost to produce.
"An egg is the cheapest protein that there is, cheapest animal protein - so these people need those products."
She said the costs to cage-egg producers to become free range would be exorbitant.
"To set up the new systems, you would need three or four times the shedding that they now have with cages," she said.
An independent government review of animal welfare standards has previously recommended a phase-out of 'cages' to be complete by 2036 at the latest.
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