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Court puts another crack in false free range claims

CHOICE welcomes the Federal Court’s findings against egg farmer’s dodgy free-range claims

23 September 2014

CHOICE’s campaign to clarify what ‘free-range’ means in Australia crossed another road today with the Federal Court finding that Pirovic Enterprises engaged in misleading conduct and made misleading representations in its labelling and promotion of eggs as ‘free-range’.

The news comes following CHOICE’s Super Complaint on shonky egg claims last year which has prompted moves towards a national information standard that will set out what “free-range” really means.[i]1

“With a national information standard currently being developed, today’s Federal Court ruling will help to clarify what constitutes a misleading free-range claim,” says CHOICE Head fo Media Tom Godfrey.

The Court found that the majority of eggs supplied by Pirovic were produced by hens that did not move about on an open range because of a combination of the following factors:
  • the stocking densities inside the barns where the hens were housed;
  • the flock sizes inside those barns; and
  • the number, size and placement and operation of the physical openings to the open range.
“CHOICE will continue to push for a national free-range standard that stops consumers getting ripped off. We want consumers who choose to pay a premium for free-range to be confident that they’re getting what they pay for,” says Mr Godfrey.                                                                                                                           

“Eggs claiming to be free-range cost up to twice as much as cage eggs despite the wide variation in how they are produced. A national standard will help us unscramble the meaning of free-range, benefiting egg eaters across the country.”

CHOICE’s super complaint pointed out that while close to 40% of the egg market is free-range, the egg industry had admitted that many products labelled ‘free-range’ do not meet the existing voluntary national standard which sets a maximum stocking density of 1,500 hens per hectare on the outdoor range.

The super complaint provided evidence that there is no relationship between standards and price, with a product that met the Model Code definition selling for less than a product with a declared stocking density 13 times higher than the Model Code limit.

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 June 2014, NSW Fair Trading commenced work on the development of a national information standard for free-range eggs.
[i] The super complaint process allows CHOICE to bring forward evidence of issues harming NSW consumers, and requires the regulator to publicly respond within 90 days, providing a powerful avenue for consumer groups to focus attention on systemic problems in markets. This is the second super complaint CHOICE has submitted under its trial with NSW Fair Trading. 

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