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Ministers make free-range eggs meaningless

CHOICE calls for consumer boycott of bad eggs after new standard rubber stamps rip-off

31 March 2016

CHOICE is calling on consumers to boycott bad eggs in light of consumer affairs ministers' decision to prop up dodgy free-range labelling and continue ripping consumers off up to $43 million a year.

"Unfortunately, consumer affairs ministers today voted to lock-in misleading free-range egg labels, and that is why we are calling for consumers to boycott these products," says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

"The new 'free-range' rules clearly reflect the commercial interests of the big industrialised egg producers, allowing stockings densities up to 10,000 hens per hectare and no requirement that hens actually go outdoors.

"These new rules fail the common sense test. All you need to do is look at egg cartons labelled free-range in any major supermarket to see how these products are marketed to Australians, with pictures of chickens outside.

"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 boycott bad eggs that have an outdoor stocking density of up to 10,000 hens per hectare," Mr Godfrey says.

Most major producers of eggs labelled 'free-range' stock at 10,000 hens per hectare. They include:
  • Aldi (Lodge Farm Free Range Eggs)
  • Coles Free Range 
  • Ecoeggs
  • Farm Pride Free Range 
  • Pace Farm Free Range 
  • Woolworths Free Range 

CHOICE has consistently called for a free range egg standard that meets consumers' expectations. At a minimum, a standard for free-range eggs should require that eggs labelled 'free-range' are produced in farms where chickens actually go outside and have a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1,500 hens per hectare.
 
"While we welcome the requirement for consistent display of stocking densities on egg cartons, if a standard does not require birds to go outside then why does it matter how much space they have?," says Mr Godfrey.

"The definition of free-range as hens having 'meaningful and regular access to the outdoors' could allow producers to call their eggs free-range even if chickens stay inside a barn all day. A standard with integrity would require that most hens go outside on most ordinary days.

At this stage, no detailed definition of 'meaningful and regular access' has been released," Mr Godfrey says.

CHOICE's research has shown that 213 million eggs were sold as free-range in 2014 that didn't meet consumers' expectations. [1] The government's decision means that consumers could be paying a premium of between $21 million and $43 million per year for free-range eggs that are not actually free-range.[2]

Consumers can tell consumer affairs ministers that they are boycotting bad eggs at choice.com.au/freerange
 
To identify bad eggs, consumers can use CHOICE's free-range buying guide. They can also look for stocking density on pack. Consumers should be aware that 10,000 hens per hectare can also be displayed as 1 bird per square metre.
 
The proposed free range standard
State, territory and federal Ministers responsible for consumer affairs voted on an information standard for free-range eggs that requires a consistent display of stocking density with a maximum stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare. Free-range would be defined as birds having meaningful and regular access to the outdoors.

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'.
Free range boycott

Editor's Note
Full list of producers stocking at 10,000 per hectare:
  • Aldi Lodge Farm Free Range Eggs
  • Coles Free Range Eggs
  • Country Fresh Free Range
  • Eco Eggs
  • Farm Pride Free Range Eggs
  • Field Fresh Free Range Eggs
  • Foodland Free Range Eggs
  • Golden Eggs Free Range WA
  • Manning Valley Free Range Eggs
  • Meggles Farm Free Range Eggs
  • Misty Mountain Free Range Eggs
  • Pace Farm Free Range Eggs
  • Pace Omega 3 Free Range Eggs
  • South Gippsland Eggs Free Range
  • Woolworths Select Free Range Eggs
  • Pioneer Free Range Eggs
  • Otway Free Range Eggs
  • Essential Foods Free Range Eggs
  • MMM Free Range Eggs

[1] Free-Range Eggs: Making the Claim Meaningful, 2015: https://www.choice.com.au//-/media/619b60e5a1f04b2191d09fd9dab4c72e.ashx
[2] Free Range Egg Labelling Consultation Paper, 2016

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