IN THE NEWS: DPI heads crack it over 'misleading' egg corruption allegations in ABC report


IN THE NEWS: On DEC 22, 2017

NSW ag heads say crucial information was excluded from an ABC news report alleging government collusion with egg producers - in turn painting NSW as a corrupt entity firmly in the pocket of 'big egg'.

NSW Department of Primary Industries director general Scott Hansen said last night's 7.30 story, which was followed by a further analysis piece this morning, used information cherrypicked by animal welfare groups from documents obtained from DPI under freedom of information.

Mr Hansen said the story contained factual errors which were not corrected when DPI attempted to put the record straight before the piece aired.

"What this is, is (welfare groups) using our transparency as a weapon in their campaign to try and stir up public angst about conventional production systems," Mr Hansen said.

"Out staff attended meetings, took notes along the way, and provided those notes to the animal welfare groups.

"This whole thing that a vet officer sitting on a writing panel - with a DPI badge on - is influencing ministers on what they do… it is just not right."

'There were no secret meetings' 

Last night DPI was accused of bowing to the egg industry and stage-managing new national welfare standards for the farming of chickens, turkeys, ducks, broilers and eggs.

A stakeholder advisory group including industry, government and animal welfare groups oversaw the development of the 125 draft standards and guidelines - which are currently up for public consultation.

The standards are being re-written for the first time since 2002, with Animal Health Australia overseeing an animal welfare task group comprising of state and federal ministers.

They will make a decision on the draft standards in mid-2018, after considering feedback from stakeholders, including industry and welfare groups.  

RSPCA senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said animal welfare concerns were being "completely ignored". Conversely, Egg Farmers Australia chief executive John Dunn told ABC allegations of corruption "had really jumped the shark" and were misleading by omission. 

Animal welfare Task group chair Will Zacharin rejected claims of undue influence on the process in a statement that is available on the online text version of the 7.30 story.

Among the allegations in the ABC story was NSW - which produces about a third of the nation's eggs - had arranged 'secret meetings' with industry before the standards-writing process had begun, and that government had continued to meet with industry over 18 months without anyone knowing.

Mr Hansen said the meetings in question were not secret, not organised by NSW, and an invitation had been extended to welfare groups, who attended at least one.  

"The meetings referred to by the ABC were not organised by the NSW Government, but were arranged by Animal Health Australia, the body in charge, to ensure the industries to be impacted by proposed standards were consulted," Mr Hansen said.

"Importantly, these meetings were known to animal welfare groups."

He said welfare group Animals Australia were participants in of one of these meetings with industry representatives in October 2015.

Animal Health Australia also arranged similar meetings without industry - with groups like RSPCA, who they met with in September 2015.

Mr Hansen said this information was provided for last night's story but was not included.

"We will continue to pursue a correction on this," Mr Hansen said.

'Misleading by omission'

The 7.30 piece also said redacted notes from poultry management group meetings showed government and industry had discussed how they could manipulate the development of standards.

Mr Hansen said many quotes had been wrongly framed to have come from NSW representatives, while others were published without full context.

"The only positive to come out of the story last night is that there has been a slight increase in public awareness that there is a public consultation process," he said.

"People should have utmost confidence that their views will be taken into account."

John Dunn said the story disregarded the fact that the standards and guidelines were accompanied by a regulatory impact statement that contains a number of options for the future of the egg industry, including Option D, which entails the phase out of caged egg farming.

"Therefore, to suggest that all options are not on the table is misleading," he said.

Other states, meanwhile, have expressed concern over NSW's influence on the draft national standards.

Victoria was worried enough about the scientific modelling in the initial review to produce its own, which Animal Health Australia has included in the public consultation documents.

Western Australia also expressed concern.

The 7.30 report also revealed animal welfare groups had to pay $3000 for extra policy options on hen stocking density to be considered.  

Mr Hansen said the national working group had already agreed on a budget for the range of the report when RSCPA had proposed the new options.

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