The Australian government has cracked over tough new egg safety regulations that could have forced many small producers out of business.
The regulations, introduced last month, require egg producers to adhere to strict conditions such as triple-washing eggs in water of a prescribed temperature and acidity to minimise disease risk. Producers must also be registered and audited by the NSW Food Authority.
The washing requirements apply only to egg graders but many small producers who do their own grading feared the rules would force them out of business.
Only producers with fewer than 20 dozen eggs a week were exempt but the Primary Industries Minister, Steve Whan, scrambled to lift the threshold to 100 dozen on Tuesday night after a meeting in Dubbo between producers and the Food Authority's head of compliance, Peter Day.
Whan said small producers would also have their licence fees waived, a saving of about $450 a year, but would still have to meet a compliance program covering ''procedures for detecting cracks, dry-washing, traceability for foodborne illness management, plus appropriate hygiene and vermin control''.
But the egg industry is furious, arguing free-range eggs were exposed to more salmonella risk factors including contact with faecal matter and cracking.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Egg Corporation, Jacqueline Baptista, said although the new rules could be ''inhibitory'' for some producers, she said the government's decision to raise the threshold would give mid-sized producers a commercial advantage. ''If someone is making money or gaining advantage from the production of eggs they should be answerable to the same requirements as everyone else.''
A Greens MP, John Kaye, said the risk of salmonella is much lower in Australia than elsewhere and has called on the state government to bring the legislation into line with Victoria, where the egg-washing rules are less strict. Despite Mr Whan's backdown, the changes have already forced some egg producers to rethink their operations. Anna de Baar was producing a modest number of eggs on her farm outside Orange but has given up because of the new rules. ''The feeling very much is that it [will] gradually get more regulated,'' she said.