What we want from 'free range'

New CHOICE research reveals what consumers expect when it comes to 'free-range'.

Consumers clear about what they want

When it comes to free-range eggs, consumers are getting ripped off. The problem is that there is no national standard for free-range eggs in Australia, only a voluntary Model Code of Practice that stipulates a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare.

In 2014, an estimated 213 million eggs were sold with stocking densities (the number of hens per hectare) higher than the Model Code.
With ministers currently in the process of developing a national standard, it's important that it meets consumer expectations in order to halt confusion around the current labelling.

Check out our free-range buying guide to see which brands meet the Model Code's 1500 hens per hectare.

What the new research shows

CHOICE's latest research, which forms part of its submission to the government's free-range egg consultation process, has highlighted that consumers want a strong and meaningful national standard for free-range eggs.  

The research found that a high proportion of consumers believe it is important, very important or essential that the following elements are included in the standard:

  • that birds actually go outside regularly (87%)
  • that birds have room to move comfortably when they are outdoors (91%)
  • that birds have room to move comfortably when they are inside the barn (91%)
  • that farmers undertake animal welfare practices in the production of their eggs (89%).

Importantly, 62% of consumers think that producers whose products fall short of the exact free-range standard should be able to label their products in a way that accurately reflects their production practices, for example 'access to range'. 

This research is part of a broader CHOICE campaign to make free-range labelling more meaningful. To date, the campaign has raised over $25,000 to fund an enormous billboard that will send a clear message to consumer affairs ministers.

What CHOICE wants

As a minimum, a free-range egg standard needs to ensure that eggs can only be labelled as free-range if they 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.

As CHOICE's research has shown, this what consumers expect free-range to mean.

"This is a labelling issue," says CHOICE head of media, Tom Godfrey. "Consumers have a firm idea of what they believe free-range to mean and they want a standard that reflects these expectations. Creating a new category such as 'access to range' will provide consumer choice and confidence while catering to different production models." 

"Importantly, this approach will provide certainty for those large-scale producers who might be at risk of misleading consumers. Instead of remaining at risk of ACCC action or having to change their production practices, they can simply adopt more accurate labelling and give consumers genuine information about how their products are produced. That would be a win for consumers and a win for egg farmers, large and small," Mr Godfrey says.

The consultation process ends on Friday 27 November so if you are passionate about this issue, tell the government what you want from a free-range standard.