2 March 2016
Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has fried dodgy free-range egg claims at Parliament House in Canberra this morning.
"The egg market is awash with dodgy packaging and questionable claims designed to convince consumers to pay a price premium without delivering the promised conditions to chooks," says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.
"At the end of this month, politicians will decide whether to clean up the free-range market. With furious lobbying from large-scale egg producers, there is a real risk that Ministers will cave in and allow the industry to keep cashing in on consumer confusion," Mr Kirkland says.
CHOICE has warned consumers looking for the real deal on free-range to watch out for:
- Egg brands that promote chook-cams that display very limited footage of the farm or edit footage.
- Egg brands that depict a generic healthy lifestyle on their packaging instead of showing real pictures of farm conditions.
- Instead, consumers should look for brands that meet the Model Code of Practice, stocking hens at a maximum 1,500 per hectare. A list of suppliers that meet the Code is available at the CHOICE website.
"Chook-cams can be particularly insidious - they imply that companies are doing the right thing by letting consumers see into the farm but it's not hard to find examples of edited footage or very limited camera coverage."
In one case, CHOICE tracked a "free-range" chook-cam over 2.5 days, taking screen shots every few hours and saw only two chickens venturing outside.
"Consumers are clearly willing to pay more for eggs with the 'free-range' label, and unfortunately there is a clear financial incentive for some producers to take advantage of this without delivering a genuine free-range product. That's why we need a strong response in the form of a nationally enforceable standard."
"Very soon, State, Territory and Federal Ministers responsible for consumer affairs will meet to decide if they'll cleanup misleading claims in the free-range egg market. It's time for each Minister to make a choice. Do they think consumers deserve truth in food labelling?"
"The Ministers need to know that consumers are not prepared to pay a premium if the outcome of this process doesn't meet their expectations," Mr Kirkland says.
CHOICE's research has shown that 213 million eggs were sold as free-range in 2014 that didn't meet consumers' expectations.
When CHOICE asked consumers, 88% of them said they wanted a free-range egg standard that allows them to differentiate between genuine free-range eggs and eggs that fall short of their expectations.
The consumer group's research highlights consumers' desire for a strong and meaningful free-range egg standard in Australia that would recognise the need for hens to regularly go outside, have room to move inside and outside, and for farmers to undertake animal welfare practices.
Information about CHOICE's free-range campaign can be found here: choice.com.au/freerange
What CHOICE wants
At a minimum, a national information standard should require that eggs labelled 'free-range' are produced in farms where:
Adopting this recommendation would result in the following four categories:
- 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'.
- Free-range; produced by hens that can, and do, move about freely on an open range on most ordinary days, plus animal welfare requirements (as defined in option 3a of the Consultation Paper)
- Access to range; produced by hens that have access to the outdoors (as defined in option 3b of the Consultation Paper)
- Barn; produced by hens that are continually housed within a barn in which they are free to roam
- Cage; produced by hens that are continually housed in a cage within a barn
The elements that free-range buyers think are important in a standard
Images from chook cams with edited footage and limited views.
Packaging that depicts healthy lifestyles instead of showing real pictures of farm conditions
 Free-Range Eggs: Making the Claim Meaningful, 2015: https://www.choice.com.au//~/media/619b60e5a1f04b2191d09fd9dab4c72e.ashx
 CHOICE Free-Range Eggs; the Consumer Perspective, CHOICE's submission to Treasury, 2015: http://goo.gl/KxG16H
 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.