14 September 2015
CHOICE welcomes the Federal Court's ruling to fine Darling Downs Fresh Eggs for engaging in misleading conduct and making misleading representations in its labelling and promotion of eggs as 'free range'.
The news follows an ongoing CHOICE campaign calling for an enforceable national standard that will set out what 'free range' really means.
"Today's ruling highlights the need for a national standard so that consumers can have confidence in this market," says CHOICE Head of Media, Tom Godfrey.
"Darling Downs isn't the only bad egg in the free range market. In July, CHOICE found that many egg products in the supermarket do not meet consumers' expectations of free range."
"With the government in the process of developing a national standard, we are calling for a standard that meets consumers' expectations of free range."
The court found that by labelling and promoting eggs as 'free range', Darling Downs Fresh Eggs represented to consumers that the eggs were produced by hens which were able to move about freely on an open range, and that most of the hens did so on most days.
In fact, Darling Downs Fresh Eggs admitted that the doors to its barns were kept shut at all times so that none of the laying hens were able to access or use the outdoor range.
"CHOICE will continue to feed into the free range standard development process. 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."
For more information on CHOICE's free range campaign, visit choice.com.au/freerange
Scrambled stocking densities
- The National Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals defines 'free range' as using a stocking density of no more than 1500 birds per hectare, but is not enforceable. Consumers' expectations largely align with this definition.
- 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 seven times the Model Code limit.
- In August 2013, CHOICE lodged its free range super complaint with NSW Fair Trading.
- In June 2014, NSW Fair Trading commenced work on the development of a national information standard for free-range eggs.
- In 2015, CHOICE launched a campaign supporting the development of a national standard. Over 10,000 consumers wrote to Ministers.
- In June 2015, Ministers agreed to develop a national standard for free-range eggs.