New Zealand free range eggs too expensive and scarce for Australia
New Zealand poultry farmers will not be scrambling to help Australian egg lovers who are in the grip of a shortage as producers struggle to meet new free-range laws.
New Zealand hens have eased off production for winter so there are no spare for export, and even if there were, New Zealand’s higher standards for free-range eggs means they would cost too much across the Tasman compared to Australian free-range eggs.
“Our maximum outdoor stocking density is 2500 hens per hectare but for Australia it is 10,000 hens per ha, far higher than anywhere else in the world – it wouldn’t actually meet the definition of free range elsewhere in the world. We also have set standards on housing, range management, outdoor access, and so on,” Michael Brooks, executive director of the Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand, said.
In March, the Australian government introduced a legal definition of “free-range”, which limits producers to one chicken per square metre and requires chickens to have “meaningful and regular access” to the outdoors.
“The New Zealand market is pretty much in equilibrium for supply and demand for free range at the moment, probably slightly tight on the supply side, and of course we are moving into winter with a seasonal drop in free range production, which is part of the reason for the drop in free-range egg supply in Australia,” Brooks said.
New Zealand exports processed eggs, mainly egg white, to Australia. It also exports eggs from caged hens rather than free-range to the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea because these countries cannot pay the higher price of the free-range variety, and cage eggs to Singapore because the island nation bans free-range eggs from anywhere over disease concerns.
Several years ago Australian hen flocks suffered a 5 per cent drop in numbers because of avian influenza, and New Zealand took its market share in the Pacific and Papua New Guinea.
Brooks said the United States had approached New Zealand last year when it had a major egg shortfall due to avian influenza but the deal did not proceed. Only New Zealand and the Netherlands were asked because of their good egg health status and disease-free poultry industries.
In 2015 poultry exports totalled $123 million, up 20 per cent on 2014. This was made up of meat ($83m), eggs ($10m) and fertile eggs, poultry livestock ($29m).