Every day Australians consume around 12 million eggs. More than 40% of those eggs are sold with a ‘Free Range’ label – which reflects positively on consumer demand, but due to some holes in legislation, these statistics may not be a simple as they appear.
Australia currently does not have consolidated national legislation regarding the requirements for qualifying eggs as ‘Free Range’. There are a number of independent regulatory bodies and industry codes that attempt to monitor standards but unfortunately, some consumers are paying a premium for the “Free Range” on the label and not much else.
Current Industry codes enforce limits on ‘stocking density’ – which is the number of animals allowed in the same area – but different codes have different standards – varying from 750 – 10,000 birds per hectare. Not having a unified front means that the industry is susceptible to loopholes.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has recently taken federal court action against large egg producers for deceptive and misleading uses of the term “free-range”. The court ruled that in order to claim the egg is free range the hens should have access to the outside on most days. This is a small but important step – with the companies under fire being ordered to pay fines for misleading the consumer.
Demand for transparency and accountability has been coming from both consumers and regulators with reassuring fervour. Thanks to efforts spearheaded by the ACCC and the Consumer Advocate Magazine Choice involving public petitions, governments have answered the call and in June agreed to develop a national standard for free-range eggs and are in the process of drafting legislation.
For terms like Free Range to retain their significance and power, it’s important to have a universally accepted definition of what qualifies. It should mean what we think it means and represent an upheld code of ethics.
Cannings is proud to stock eggs from the Pincott farm in Holbrook, Southern NSW. The business actually started by selling their eggs through a butcher! Now, they are struggling to meet demand and represent the gold standard for Free Range Eggs. The farm will move cattle through a selected pasture to keep the grass down and churn up grubs and insects – and then the hens are then allowed onto the same pasture to forage in the freshly disturbed ground. It’s a symbiotic form of rotation and a perfect example of what we perceive paddock free-ranging to be.
Image courtesy of Choice Magazine.