15 April 2016
CHOICE welcomes the Federal Court's decision to fine Free-Range Egg Farms, which produce the brands Ecoeggs, Port Stephens and Field Fresh, for making false or misleading representations in their labelling and promotion of eggs as 'free-range'.
The news follows a disappointing decision by Federal, State and Territory Ministers responsible for consumer affairs, who defined free-range as hens having 'regular and meaningful access to the outdoors' and allowing a maximum outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare.
"Today's ruling shows that consumers can't trust free-range egg labels in supermarkets," says CHOICE spokesperson Erin Turner.
"Ministers responsible for consumer affairs had an opportunity to clean up this market. Instead they bowed to the requests of big industrial egg producers and locked in an information standard that will continue to rip-off consumers as 'free-range' hens can still be kept in cramped conditions with no guarantee they go outside."
"The decision that Ministers made last month will legislate misleading behaviour. It means that the ACCC may find it much harder to bring successful legal action against dodgy free range egg claims.
Since 2011, there have been six major instances where the ACCC has instituted or taken action against egg producers for misleading consumers.
"These producers have knowingly misled and deceived consumers yet their practices will likely be protected by a weak free-range egg standard and consumers will be the ones to lose.
"Eggs that come from hens that don't go outside and have high stocking densities don't meet consumers' expectations and don't deserve the free-range label.
"Because of this, we are calling on consumers to continue boycotting bad eggs stocking at 10,000 hens per hectare, including Ecoeggs, Port Stephens and Field Fresh. Consumers should look for eggs from hens stocked at 1,500 hens per hectare which are much more likely to freely roam," says Ms Turner.
The Court found that by labelling and promoting the eggs as 'free-range', Free-Range Egg Farms represented to consumers that the eggs were produced by hens which moved about freely on an open range on an ordinary day when this was not the case.
"To avoid dodgy free-range eggs, consumers can use CHOICE's new augmented reality app, CluckAR. The app gives power back to consumers, helping them navigate the free-range egg market" says Ms Turner.
"By scanning a free-range egg carton, consumers can quickly see which eggs live up to the 'free-range' claim."
Consumers can download the CluckAR app here: http://newthings.choice.com.au/cluckar/
They can also tell Ministers that they are boycotting bad eggs here: www.choice.com.au/freerange
CHOICE's proposed free-range standard
CHOICE has called for a free-range egg standard to require that:
- The majority of chickens actually go outside regularly
- Birds have room to move comfortably when outdoors
- Birds have room to move comfortably inside the barn
- Farmers undertake animal welfare practices.
- Any products that don't meet these minimum requirements should be labelled in a way that accurately reflects how they were produced, for example 'access to range'.
History of dodgy free-range and associated fines by the Federal Court
- C.I & Co (2011) - $50,000
- Rosie's Free-Range Eggs (2012) - $50,000
- Pirovic (2014) - $300,000
- Darling Downs (2015) - $250,000
- Snowdale Holdings (2015) - currently being investigated
- Free-Range Egg Farms - Ecoeggs, Port Stephens, Field Fresh (2016) - $300,000