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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 3075 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

labelling of genetically modified food. I will continue to work on improving the national food standards in areas of concern to environmentalists and consumers.

As I have said before in this place in other debates over national agreements, I am greatly concerned that national agreements can lead to a lowest common denominator approach to standard setting. I believe that a state or territory that wants to set high standards should be allowed to do so and not be dragged back by other states.

The case in point here is the use of battery cages for the keeping of hens. Members would know that there has been a long-running campaign by animal welfare groups to ban the use of battery cages in egg production because of its inherent cruelty to hens. This Assembly passed legislation in 1997 to phase out the use of battery cages in the ACT and to require the labelling of egg packaging to indicate the conditions under which the hens that produced the eggs were kept.

Unfortunately, the ban on the sale of eggs from battery cage hens in the ACT has not yet been able to be implemented because it required the agreement of the other states under the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act. Other states would not agree to this, despite a Productivity Commission study of the legislation that concluded that the ban would make an improvement to hen welfare and that alternative policy options would not be likely to achieve the objectives of the ban in a cost-effective way. I think it is appalling that other states have been able to hold back a legitimate initiative of the ACT even though most of them have no economic connection to the egg industry here.

It appears that the same thing is happening in this bill with the labelling of eggs. Egg labelling was implemented in the ACT about two years ago. It only applies to eggs produced in the ACT, predominantly the Bartter egg farm at Parkwood, because the Mutual Recognition Act stops us from forcing eggs imported from other states to be labelled.

The Productivity Commission report concluded that egg labelling was a much more straightforward issue than the outright ban on battery cage eggs. It concluded that the provision of this information could benefit a significant proportion of consumers, with little or no addition to producers' costs. It found that many consumers have a poor understanding of the animal welfare implications of different egg production systems. This certainly is not helped by the producers of battery cage eggs labelling their egg cartons with such slogans as "farm fresh" or "happy hens", which gives a very misleading picture of the battery cage system, which is in fact a very miserable sight.

In the battery cage system hens live in cages of four to five birds, with each bird having an area of less than an A4 page in which to live out its wretched life. The hens' lives are totally geared around the production of eggs and they are unable to undertake normal hen behaviour such as scratching the ground, preening, stretching, nesting or perching. Often their feathers get rubbed off and their feet get deformed from being surrounded by wire mesh. Their beaks have to be trimmed soon after birth to stop them from pecking other birds in the cramped conditions.

The legal basis of egg labelling are provisions inserted into the Food Act in 1997, and the details of the labelling are set out in a regulation under the act. However, these provisions have disappeared from the Food Bill because we have been told by the

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