Egg farmers face cost blowouts as state agriculture ministers join forces to push for all laying hens' cages to be furnished with perches, nests and scratch pads.
Attendees at a poultry industry roundtable last week said West Australian Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan told them she had the backing of Victoria in the push to have all cages furnished within 10 years.
Egg farmers on both sides of the nation have voiced their concern over the proposal, given Animal Health Australia estimates the cost of replacing conventional with furnished cages is $935 million.
In its recent regulatory impact statement on welfare options, AHA found small to medium-size caged-egg producers would bear the brunt of the cost. With more than half the nation's eggs still produced in cages, Victorian producers have warned being forced to invest in furnished cages would cripple family businesses, lead to job losses and a flood of interstate eggs.
"You can't just pop in a perch," Victorian Farmers Federation Egg Group vice-president Brian Ahmed said. "You have to put in a whole new cage."
Mr Ahmed said egg producers were still recovering from reforms that demanded they introduce new cages by 2010 that had full opening fronts, increased floor areas and height allowing birds to fully stand.
"The last thing we want is to take on the cost of furnished cages and then 10 years down the track have to get rid of those as well," he said.
West Australian industry players at the roundtable said Ms MacTiernan made it clear she had Victoria's backing.
The Weekly Times understands Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford has approached Victorian industry players calling on them to consider adopting furnished cages.
When asked about the request, Ms Pulford's office said: "A national review of the Australian model code of practice for the welfare of poultry is currently under way, and we await the findings."
Based on AHA estimates, the cost of moving to furnished cages in Victoria would be about $225 million, while in Western Australia the cost is closer to $100 million.
VFF egg president Tony Nesci said Victorian farmers would not lie down to this minority, green, inner-city agenda.
"If this government caves into the Greens on this then they'll have to explain why they're shutting down businesses in Werribee and Bridgewater and Campbellfield and Keysborough," Mr Nesci said.
"Hundreds of jobs will be lost and farming families turfed off the land.
"This sector has been misunderstood and misrepresented. I'll continue working hard to ensure people get to see what real caged-egg farming looks like."
Egg Farmers Australia chief executive said the industry was committed to maintaining dialogue with the Victorian Government on the issue.