free range eggs standardIn a controversial move, the consumer affairs ministers from the various Australian states and territories agreed in March 2016 on a new free range eggs standard. While this did provide certainty for consumers, the stocking levels and conditions for hens were decried by Choice as not truly “free range”.

Animal welfare and consumer groups, including Choice, supported the voluntary Model Code of Practice. This sets the limit at 1500 hens per hectare and requires that most of the hens are outdoors on most days. The new free range eggs standard sets a limit of 10,000 hens per hectare. It also requires that they have “meaningful and regular access” to an outdoor range. The hens don’t necessarily have to venture outside to be called “free range”.

The agreement also requires that the outdoor stocking density be stated on the packaging. It will be enforced by consumer law in each jurisdiction. This at least does allow consumers to make informed choices regarding the eggs they buy – a major objective of the new standard.

Choice says not good enough

However, a spokesman for Choice, Tom Godfrey, said, “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?”

The ACCC had previously prosecuted producers it claimed were misleading consumers with “free range” claims. Several were fined, including Pirovic, penalised $300,000, Darling Downs, Derodi and Holland (Ecoeggs, Field Fresh and Port Stephens brands), and Rosie’s, fined $50,000.

Choice has released a list of free range egg brands and their stocking densities. The consumer organisation is encouraging people to boycott the least chook-friendly options. Most of the major brands, including Coles, Woolworths and Aldi house brands, operate to the new free range eggs standard of 10,000 birds per hectare.