Despite a growing community focus on the welfare of farmed animals, the Queensland Government changed its legislation to redefine what constitutes free-range eggs. Previously, Queensland was the only state to give legal status to the national Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, which specifies a maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare. The new standard of 10,000 birds per hectare handily fell in line with what Coles defined as free-range.
Previously, free-range eggs selling through Coles could come from intensive operations with stock densities of up to 30,000 birds per hectare. However, the ACCC raised doubts about the legitimacy of labelling eggs raised in an intensive way as free-range, saying that these operations do not reflect the public’s understanding of what free-range means. In 2012, the ACCC rejected the Australian Egg Corporation’s Certification Trade Mark proposal based on bringing the definition of free-range in line with a stocking density of 20,000 birds per hectare and under.
The consumer organisation CHOICE was pushing for a nationally consistent standard for defining free-range eggs. A survey of their members in 2012 found that 60% of their respondents said it was “essential” the eggs they bought were free-range, while a further 25% said it was “important”.
At a meeting in Cairns in June 2014, state and territory ministers agreed to a New South Wales proposal to develop a national standard for free-range eggs, as a result of a push from New South Wales Fair Trading. New South Wales was to take a leading role in drafting a National Information Standard for free-range eggs. However, cases before the ACCC were likely to delay the implementation of the Standard.
In one such case, in September 2014, the Federal Court handed down a $300,000 penalty against one egg producer after finding that its ‘free range’ egg representations were false or misleading.