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CHOICE welcomes free-range egg consultation

Ministers show they give a cluck about free-range eggs

5 October 2015

CHOICE has welcomed today's start of consultations on free-range egg labelling as the next step in ending the 'free range' rip off.
 
CHOICE says that the consultation paper, released by the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP on behalf of the nation's consumer affairs ministers, paints a clear picture of the current free-range farce and identifies options for unscrambling the problem.
 
"As the consultation paper shows, an increasing number of Australians are paying a premium for eggs labelled free-range without having any certainty they're getting what they pay for," says Matt Levey, CHOICE Director of Campaigns and Communications.
 
"In the absence of a national, enforceable standard for free-range, it is relatively easy to mislead consumers, and unfortunately there is a financial incentive for some producers to do so. The result is that consumers lose, as do producers of genuine free-range eggs," Mr Levey says.
 
The consultation follows a CHOICE investigation in June this year estimating a minimum of 213 million eggs sold in Australia last year under the 'free-range' label failed to meet consumers' expectations of the free-range claim.[1]
 
"Based on consumers' expectations, it's estimated Australians could be paying between $21-$43 million per year for eggs that aren't the real deal," Mr Levey says.[2]
 
"It's a rip-off that distorts the market and undermines competition, and that's why it's so important that governments step in and agree a genuine free-range standard that reflects what consumers expect.

"Our research has shown that 84% of egg buyers agree that a mandatory national standard is needed while only 2% did not believe there should be a standard. Clearly it's time to get cracking."
 
With consultations open until 2 November, CHOICE is calling on consumers to support a genuine standard and contribute to a free-range information campaign.[3]

"Support for the campaign has been overwhelming with consumers already donating almost $9,000 to send a message to government that they want real free-range," says Mr Levey.

CHOICE has particularly welcomed the initiative shown by Minister O'Dwyer in kicking off consultations, and the leadership of NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation the Hon Victor Dominello MP, in championing these reforms.

1. CHOICE, June 2015, 'Free-range eggs – making the claim meaningful'
2. Consumer Affairs Australia New Zealand, October 2015, 'Free range egg labeling – Consultation Regulation Impact Statement', p. 6
3. For more information see www.choice.com.au/freerange

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 maximum 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 stocking densities of 10,000 birds per hectare, nearly 7 times the Model Code limit.
  • 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. However this requires Federal Government support to proceed.
  • Both ACT and Queensland have free range legislation in Australia
  • SA is introducing its own voluntary free range egg code

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