01.ACCC should reject new free-range definition
In a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), CHOICE has called for the rejection of a proposal by the Australian Egg Corporation that would certify eggs labelled ‘free-range’ which are produced by hens stocked at densities up to 13 times greater than the current definition allows.
CHOICE sent the ACCC an open letter and the names of 3101 members of the public who signed our petition asking that the AECL’s proposal be rejected.
The ACCC called for comments on the Egg Corporation’s application to register the Egg Standards Australia/Australasia certification trade mark (CTM). CTM rules include a free-range outdoor stocking density limit of 20,000 birds per hectare. Their proposed limit is 13 times greater than the limit under the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry of 1500 birds per hectare, which is reflected in Queensland legislation and many existing certification schemes.
The purpose of a CTM is to give consumers confidence the products they buy meet accepted standards. If approved, the AECL would be able to licence companies which produce eggs to use the CTM logo on egg cartons provided they comply with the CTM rules, including the maximum stocking density.
What CHOICE wants
In our submission, CHOICE contended that the Egg Corporation’s CTM application raises consumer protection concerns because the maximum stocking density proposed in the rules is substantially inconsistent with the current definition. We think the AECL’s CTM would mislead consumers by representing that eggs meet accepted standards when it allows a 13-fold increase on the current definition.
We think there are also competition implications because companies that respect the 1500 birds per hectare limit may find it difficult to compete with companies that implement stocking densities 13 times higher.
Stocking density has become a flashpoint in the debate over free-range egg labelling since the Egg Corporation first proposed the 13-fold increase more than two years ago. CHOICE research earlier this year showed most participants understood free range to mean birds have room to move around and access the outdoors with a maximum number of birds allowed on the outside range.
CHOICE believes a national and consistent standard based on research by independent animal welfare experts is needed to give consumers confidence they are getting what they pay for when they buy free range eggs.
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