Still on the shelf
In March this year, consumer affairs ministers voted to lock in misleading free-range egg labels. A meeting of state, territory and federal ministers decided that:
- 'Free-range' can mean eggs produced by hens stocked at up to 10,000 birds per hectare, not the maximum 1500 per hectare that the CSIRO Model Code recommends.
- Egg cartons will have to display stocking densities, but there's no requirement for to chickens to actually go outside.
CHOICE believes the nation's consumer affairs ministers made the decision to put the interests of large-scale egg producers ahead of the needs of consumers. The ACT's consumer affairs minister Shane Rattenbury was the sole minister to vote for the recommended 1500 birds per hectare standard.
The decision means that big producers can still flog dodgy 'free range' eggs at high prices in supermarkets, and consumers are still going to have to fight to figure out if they're buying the real deal or an expensive imitation.
We believe that eggs which come from hens that don't go outside and have high stocking densities don't meet consumer expectations, and don't deserve a 'free-range' label.
In response to the new standard, a number of free-range egg producers with low stocking densities are looking to change the terminology of free range eggs to "free-range pastured eggs" on pack in order to differentiate themselves.
A group called PROOF (standing for Pasture Raised On Open Fields) is now in the process of developing an accreditation scheme which will soon see the term "pastured" start appearing on cartons. The guidelines for PROOF's pastured eggs allow for a maximum stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare (in line with the Model Code) as well as requiring that hens are able to range freely in open fields or paddocks. So far, PROOF has 12 licensed egg farms, with another eight in the pipeline.
Most major producers of eggs labelled 'free range' stock at 10,000 hens per hectare. Brands with this stocking density include:
- Aldi (Lodge Farm Free Range Eggs)
- Coles Free Range
- Farm Pride Free Range
- Pace Farm Free Range
- Woolworths Free Range
To see the full list of good and bad eggs, use our free range egg buying guide. You can also look for stocking density on the egg carton itself. And be aware that 10,000 hens per hectare can also be displayed as '1 bird per square metre'.