Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (27 October) . . Page.. 2246 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
I am appalled at the Minister's report of the recent decision of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council not to support a national standard on egg labelling, on the grounds that it is not a public health issue or a consumer deception issue. Labelling is obviously important for public health reasons, but why can there not also be labelling for animal welfare reasons? I am also very surprised that they say it is not a consumer deception issue. Consumers buying cartons of eggs produced in a battery cage system are being deceived every day, because they are not being given any idea of the appalling conditions under which the hens that laid those eggs are kept.
In fact, I understand that a case was brought to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 1996 regarding misleading claims and pictures on egg cartons. The commission received complaints that cartons of eggs produced by battery caged hens were labelled that the eggs were laid "under an intensive animal care system", as if the animals were really cared for, and also that some egg cartons had pictures on them of hens in open barn situations, when the eggs had been produced from hens in battery cages. The ACCC decided that this representation is apt to mislead or deceive customers as to the type of egg production method involved, and the ACCC required the relevant egg producers to phase out the use of such representations on egg cartons entirely by the end of 1997. Even now we still see cartons of battery cage eggs labelled with expressions like "farm fresh eggs", as if the eggs came from hens happily scratching around a farm and not in the confined, factory-like conditions that they really are in. So there are certainly consumer deception issues involved in egg packaging, issues which governments are ignoring.
I am also disappointed that the Government has chosen not to implement the egg labelling requirements within the ACT, even if it cannot get agreement from other States. The Government could impose the labelling requirement on Parkwood Eggs, which supplies at least 80 per cent of the ACT market. This would make a significant impact on egg marketing in the ACT, even if there were still some interstate eggs not labelled. I note that the Minister said that this action may be in breach of the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act. The advice I have received, however, is that the ACT could still impose the labelling requirement on local egg producers but that it would not be able to prosecute against eggs imported from interstate without the labelling until an exemption is obtained under the Mutual Recognition Act. In that respect we are still waiting to see the report of the Productivity Commission on the banning of the battery cage system. The Government commissioned that report some time after the legislation was passed.
I wonder how long the Assembly will have to wait before that exemption is obtained and the battery hen legislation can be finally implemented. The Government does not seem to have much commitment to implementing this legislation.
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (11.08): I will speak quite briefly to the Bill, Mr Speaker. The Labor Party will support the Bill but I would like to draw attention to the fact that we think it is important that the Minister and the ACT Government continue to seek seriously to address the issues raised in the legislation and that the Minister, in his discussions with his State and Territory colleagues, continue to genuinely seek to advance the position that this Assembly, in its wisdom, has decided should be the situation in the ACT, if not in the rest of Australia.