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Governments get cracking on free range

CHOICE welcomes egg-cellent move towards enforceable national free-range standard

13 June 2014

CHOICE says the decision today by the nation’s consumer affairs ministers to commence the development of a draft National Information Standard for free-range eggs is great news for consumers who have been paying a premium for dodgy free-range eggs for far too long.

“Our super complaint to NSW Fair Trading last year pointed out that while close to 40% of the egg market is free-range, the egg industry has admitted that many products labelled ‘free-range’ fall foul of the existing voluntary definition,” says CHOICE Director of Campaigns and Communciations Matt Levey.

“This means a large number of consumers are shelling out for free-range duds, paying double the price of cage eggs, without having any confidence these products meet their reasonable expectations.

“It great to see the law will finally be laid down on what ‘free-range’ really means, and we congratulate NSW Fair Trading for leading this process.”

“The crucial next step is ensuring the new standard reflects consumers’ expectations and the best advice of animal welfare experts, ensuring it is not only nationally consistent and enforceable, but meaningful,” Mr Levey says.

Scrambled stocking densities:

  • The National Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals defines “free-range” using a stocking density of no more than 1,500 birds per hectare but is not enforceable.
  • The Australian Egg Corporation was pushing for a stocking density of 20,000 birds per hectare, 13 times the Model Code limit. This was rejected by the ACCC in its initial assessment on the grounds it may mislead consumers.
  • Major retailers Coles and Woolworths have announced stocking densities of 10,000 birds per hectare, nearly 7 times the Model Code limit.
  • Last year, Queensland dropped its legislated free-range stocking density of 1,500 birds per hectare in favour of 10,000 birds per hectare. Over 7,400 consumers signed CHOICE’s petition opposing this move.
  • South Australia has announced a voluntary code that will certify as free-range eggs with a maximum stocking density of 1,500 birds per hectare.
  • In August 2013, CHOICE lodged its free-range super complaint with NSW Fair Trading.
  • In October 2013, CHOICE gave a Shonky Award to ecoeggs for what was then their declared stocking density of 20,000 birds per hectare.
  • In December 2013,  NSW Fair Trading responded to CHOICE’s super complaint calling for  consumer ministers from around Australia to agree and implement a national enforceable standard for free-range eggs.

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