Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Caged Eggs

If you are in Australia, and certainly in Melbourne, you have probably been exposed to the 'That's No Way To Treat A Lady' campaign. The stated objective is to put an end to Caged Eggs.

Which begs the question: Why?

Although, that's a fairly undirected question, and if you are hoping for some argument from me as to why caged eggs should continue and for me to throw in with those morons who believe in a free market. Prepare to be disappointed.

To specify a bit, why now? and why is this necessary?

To answer 'why now?' I guess you have to go 'why not?' and turn to the words of Rage Against The Machine 'it has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime, what better place than here? what better time than now?' So caged eggs is a long established practice of industrialised farming, hence it is unlikely to ever come across as 'urgent' it is not a new atrocity breaking out, hence unlikely on any given day to be picked up by the 24 hour news cycle.

Relative to most Australians though, you get this sitch where somehow what Russia does to Georgia is somehow relevant, and Kanye marrying Kim in Versailles is somehow relevant, yet the eggs most Australian's consume is irrelevant.

Hence hencely, the campaign is a spend to get it back into conversation, to create an issue from a status quo.

And for me at least it has worked.

Now as to why this is necessary? That I actually struggle to answer. Here's what I'd argue though.

The practice can just be banned. Just legislate it out of existence. My suspicion is that eggs are a commodity that doesn't face much pressure from 'cheap chinese imports'. Vis-a-vis Australian producers can only make price competitive arguments in the domestic sense. Which rules out 'we have to be this cheap to compete with Chinese/Indonesian/Indian/South American producers, and that means we need cage eggs to minimise costs and maximise production.' an eggs laid per square meter type something something argument.

Can they argue that consumers won't pay? I guess so. It's a price wise supply and demand domestic argument. Where the industry could argue that Australian consumers see egg consumption as a God given right and that it is the duty of industry and government to give them their eggs at the lowest possible price. Basically pre-supposing that the Australian consumer has the same attitude to eggs as they do towards fuel.

I'd suggest they don't. Furthermore in the analogy of fuel, what the last decades constant outrage about rising fuel prices should have taught us, if anything, is that you have the consumer over the barrel. No doubt some people were inspired by market forces to switch from Car to bicycle or public transport. But overwhelmingly not. They will hate it, and hate you for it, but they are addicts to the petrol pump and they will just fucking take whatever you dish at them, and there's a certain pleasure to be derived from their anger and outrage.

Same same with anybody who honestly would kick up a stink if cage eggs were banned (and the accompanying issues of access to sunlight, beak and wing clipping etc.) The will pay the extra $1-$3 a carton of eggs, they will hate you for it, but I'm going to assert that the psychographics here should tell us that they will fucken take it. The kind of people who are willing to buy caged eggs to save a few dollars, are not going to become vegan in protest. The kind of people I'm talking about are the counter argument to the free market because their financial decisions will be all over the place anyway. They will report unwillingness to pay extra for free range eggs, yet will buy their teenage son a new car for his 18th in a gross act of completely discretionary spending that comes with all manner of subsequent and hidden costs.

So you don't need to worry about consumers, or argue on their behalf. Those that may care have no power anyway.

What's left? Job creation, the economy at large. The perpetual calling cards of unsustainable (or more accurately, incompetent) businesses that go cap in hand to the government asking them to make them viable. We saw it with the mining industry, where the Australian population at large got totally owned by the advertising spending power of the mines.

You can use common sense to debunk the mining ads, but the arguments are powerful in their effect.

So straight up, I don't think egg farmers can spend $120 million a day to undermine the government that proposes the legislation. But maybe they can.

Then what do the ads contain? And more importantly, what does the consumer already know? A big thing that helped out mining, was that the idea was already in the consumers head that mining was fuelling our economy, and our boom. Our house prices were up because of mining, our wages were up because of mining, mining was creating jobs and we were all hearing the stories of how dipshit from our home town who flunked out of high school was going over and out earning in their first year the school dux who did a medicine-law double degree.

Thus it was early to put a bunch of sobs in hard hats and high visability gear and say because of the governments tax, mining projects were being shut down and re-evaluated and for people to believe that horse shit. Because they already believed it.

It may be the limits of my imagination, but I'd say in the case of cage eggs:

1. The average australian aspires to gourmet, many people's most frequent achievement is taking a photo of a restaurant meal and posting it to facebook. Australian's don't value cheap low-quality ingredients. They know they aren't supposed to value that.

2. There's no glamorous way to show a sympathetic Australian taking a stroll through their battery hen facility to make any Australian feel like that industry was vulnerable and should be protected. There's no camera filter to make the colours pop or the imagery appealing.

3. There's no sympathetic sob you can put in farmers attire and have tell the Australian public that their job is under threat and that their superannuation is going to shit because of our collective exposure to cage egg practices. Relative to the kid flown in to work the mines, I would say that the employees of cage egg facilities are paid pretty unenviable wages, and while farming has increasingly gone corporate, it's not in the public's mind. The industry is assumed to be some loose collective or union of proprietary businesses. It's still the corner milk-bar and not 7-Eleven in the consumer mind, no matter the reality. Nobody is going to plausibly make the connect that what's good for farmers' bottom line is good for my superannuation. BHP is one of Australia's largest companies, if it has a bad day the ASX200 literally has a bad day too because it represents so much of the index. Not so for egg farmers.

Eggs in other words, are a fucking commodity. There's no way to sell cage eggs to people except for price. You can't show them where cage eggs come from, and most of the marketing efforts are to conceal as much as possible without outright denial that the eggs are cage laid.

If you attacked this industry on the battlefield of consumer perceptions, they would lose. They already have.

What then, do they cling to? There is some obvious reason that government after government has shied away from taking the public glory of taking decisive action and crushing a cornered opponent.

Here are the limits of my imagination:

1. There's a slippery slope argument in play. So pig farmers will defend the practices of egg farmers, because if the egg farmers cages go, so too do their pig cages. The whole farming industry bands together over bottom line on blocking humane treatment of animals.

2. Our governments absolutely do not ever want to send a message that they do not cooperate with business and industry. Because that is who elects them.


That's it really. To which I just go back to Rage's lyrics. Someone may as well end it. 

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