Free range eggs not all they're cracked up to be

How free are the hens that lay free-range eggs? Have big producers redefined free range to suit themselves?
 
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  • Updated:20 Jun 2008
 

04.Truth in labelling

Apart from there being no legally enforceable certification standards, there have also been issues surrounding the substitution of cage eggs for free-range eggs. One packer and supplier was recently found by the Federal Court to have substituted cage eggs for organic ones.

In some cases, it’s the old story — caveat emptor, buyer beware.

  • The label on Veggs for families has “Organic Grain Fed Hens” in large letters and you could easily mistake them for organic eggs. But these are barn-laid eggs, whereas certified organic eggs must be free-range (see Setting standards).
  • In addition, a subscriber wrote to us about Wattle Ridge, The Environmental Egg. The label enthusiastically declares their environmental credentials — “a completely biodegradable, environmentally sound pack … recycled water … a recycling program second to none that turns the chicken’s waste into valuable compost.” But you could easily miss the word “cage” in text only slightly darker than the background. As our subscriber points out, “It’s another example of where a lack of clear labelling makes it difficult even for the most careful shopper.”

The NSW Food Authority has investigated accuracy of labelling and its report will be published later this year.

Logos you can trust

These organisations certify free-range egg producers. They have clearly defined standards that producers must meet and they have systems in place for regular inspections of farms. Check their respective websites for information on their standards. Free range poultry and egg logo

Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia (FREPAA)

This comes under the umbrella of the Free Range Farmers Association and can be contacted on 03 5628 7603, 07 4696 7501, or 02 4572 3315 www.freerangefarmers.com.au.

 

RSPCA logo

RSPCA

Australia mainly endorses barn-laid eggs but also free-range farms that meet their criteria; 02 6282 8300. See www.rspca.org.au.

 

Australian certified organic logo

Australian Certified Organic

This is the logo of the Biological Farmers of Australia, 07 3350 5716 or www.bfa.com.au. This was the only organic certification we found on eggs, but there are other organic certifying organisations - see CHOICE, August 2007.

 

Meaningless "best before" dates

According to the Australian Egg Corporation’s Code of Practice, the ‘best before’ date marked on egg boxes should be five weeks from the date of laying. But we found plenty of eggs with more than five weeks still to go on the date when we bought them. It’s clear that some producers are using ‘best before’ dates six or more weeks from laying. Yet before the industry was deregulated the date was about three weeks from the date of packing.

CHOICE believes that Australian consumers deserve better and wants to see eggs stamped with the date on which they were packed (as in the US). What would be so hard about that?

 

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