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Why did the Minister cross the road?

Billboard calls for Assistant Treasurer to not play chicken and end the free-range rip-off

14 January 2016

CHOICE has unveiled a consumer-funded billboard in the Victorian electorate of Assistant Treasurer the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer calling for her to end the free-range egg rip-off and deliver a standard that meets consumers' expectations.

"The Assistant Treasurer has an opportunity to crack the free-range farce once and for all by creating a meaningful egg standard," says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

With Minister O'Dwyer and her state and territory colleagues set to make a decision on a free-range egg standard early this year, the billboard was funded by 866 individuals who donated over $26,000 to get the message across to consumer affairs ministers that this rip-off needs to end.

"Consumers want free-range claims to mean something in Australia. At the moment, many claims are little more than cynical marketing slogans used to contrive a price premium," says Mr Godfrey. 

"The support for the billboard further highlights how passionate consumers are about this issue and their firm views on what free-range should mean. They want a standard to reflect these expectations."

CHOICE research found that consumers believe it is important, very important or essential that the following elements are included in a standard: 
  • 87% said that birds actually go outside regularly.
  • 91% said that birds have room to move comfortably when they are outdoors.
  • 89% said that farmers undertake animal welfare practices in the production of their eggs.[1]
CHOICE is aware that some egg producers are actively lobbying for a standard that sets a lower benchmark for free-range production than the definition established through case law (which is that at a minimum, most chickens go outside on most ordinary days). This could result in a standard that allows eggs to be labelled free-range even though chickens didn't actually go outside.

"With free-range eggs costing almost twice the price of caged[2], an accurate standard is needed to give consumers confidence when paying a price premium. A standard should not be used to shield producers who might be misleading consumers," Mr Godfrey says.

The billboard can be viewed at 25-27 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern until 28th January.

Free range billboard

What CHOICE wants

At a minimum, a national information standard should require that eggs labelled 'free-range' are produced in farms where:
  • 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'. 
Adopting this recommendation would result in the following four categories:
  1. Free-range; produced by hens that can, and do, move about freely on an open range on most ordinary days plus animal welfare requirements
  2. Access to range; produced by hens that have access to the outdoors 
  3. Barn: produced by hens that are continually housed within a barn in which they are free to roam 
  4. Cage: produced by hens that are continually housed in a cage within a barn

[1] Free-range Eggs: Making the Claim Meaningful: https://www.choice.com.au//-/media/619b60e5a1f04b2191d09fd9dab4c72e.ashx
 
[2] 2015 CHOICE Free-range Egg Labelling Survey, responses to 'How important do you think a national free-range egg standard includes the following elements?' Percentage shown are total rated essential, very important and important. n= 1677.

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