Animal lover ... singer Missy Higgins.
A campaign to put an end to battery-hen egg production in Australia will begin today, with environmentalists targeting supermarkets and asking consumers to boycott non free-range eggs.
A series of radio advertisements, organised by the group Animals Australia and voiced by the singer Missy Higgins, will point out that all 27 member countries of the European Union have outlawed practices that are still the norm in Australia.
The Australian Egg Corporation, the body representing most egg suppliers, defended the practices, which allow about 12 million hens to live out their lives in a space roughly the size of a sheet of A4 paper.
Banning battery-egg production could force the price of 12 eggs up to $10, and cost governments about $500 million to buy out caged-hen operators, the corporation said.
But environment groups believe a campaign to end battery-hen egg production is ''winnable'' and will eventually make all eggs free-range.
"Australians, by and large, are a nation of animal lovers,'' the campaign director of Animals Australia, Lyn White, said. ''If consumers are made aware that simply through choosing to leave cage eggs on supermarket shelves they can demand a better and kinder life for hens, we are confident they will do so.
"No ethical society can condone a method of production that confines birds so severely that they cannot even stretch their wings, and where they have no quality of life whatsoever.''
Animals Australia cited a 2006 report prepared for the EU, which examined scientific studies and concluded that battery cages led to sicker birds whose quality of life was impaired.
''The evidence from this report has, in the main, substantiated previous scientific knowledge that the welfare of laying hens is severely compromised in conventional cages,'' the report concluded.
The corporation said not all EU nations had been able to fully comply with the small-cage ban by its start date on January 1, and some were having difficulty meeting demand by using free-range hens or hens in bigger cages.
''Australians have a right to affordable and nutritious food like cage eggs,'' a spokesman for the corporation, Kai Ianssen, said. ''Some privileged ideologues want to take that right away.''
The corporation cited a recent University of Sydney study that found caged birds were no less stressed than free-range birds, though that study has also been criticised.
By Ben Cubby, Sydney Morning Herald