Monday, January 05, 2015

We eat too much meat

Australians consume an average of 116 kilograms of meat a year, second only to Americans. Since the 1970s, there's been a dramatic shift away from beef and lamb to pork and, most notably, chicken - its consumption has quadrupled in 40 years, to make it our top choice at 43 kilograms.
Meeting this demand has consequences for production. ''Conventionally'' farmed broiler chickens, harvested in five-to-eight weeks, half the time it takes to raise organic birds, are routinely fed prophylactic antibiotics. Yes, they're hormone free, as advertised, but hormones in chickens have been banned for decades.
And ''chemical free'' doesn't refer to the farm, but to processing, where chlorine is otherwise routinely used to wash the carcasses.
Then there's stocking densities. In July, in response to action by the ACCC, the Federal Court of Australia found that Baiada, owners of the Steggles brand, and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation misled consumers by using ''free to roam'', because the chickens were stocked at up to 19 birds a square metre, up to 33 days of their 42-day lifecycle. Turi Foods, suppliers of La Ionica chickens, were fined $100,000 over the issue in 2012.
Australia doesn't even have national standards for something as basic as the definition of ''free range'' eggs, which now make up 40 per cent of sales and rising.
In June, the Queensland Government changed the definition from a stocking density of 1500 hens a hectare to 10,000. Coles now uses the same definition, while the Australian Egg Corporation was pushing for 20,000 a hectare.
Former High Court judge Michael Kirby summed up the issues around our love of meat in an opinion piece for the ABC in June: ''In truth, meat is not cheap. The sticker price is far from the real price. There are enormous costs to be paid, by the environment, by our health, and by the 500 million animals suffering on Australian factory farms.''