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Finally, There Will Soon Be a National Standard For Free Range Eggs

This article promises to be 100% free of egg puns.

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Trying to choose which eggs to buy is ridiculously hard in Australia. Is cage free better than barn laid? Is farm fresh the same as freshly laid? How free is free range?


Because there's no national, enforceable labelling system, this has meant that any carton of eggs can come with an array of promises slapped on them that in the end, don't count for much.

It also means you could be paying extra for free range eggs, but the chickens who laid them still had a pretty miserable life.

Consumer advocacy group Choice says millions of shoppers trying to buy ethically are being duped. Shoppers are paying twice the cost of caged eggs to get free-range, but what they're being sold doesn't meet a commonsense definition of free range.

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There's a general expectation that free-range chickens have space to move about, have access to outdoors and aren't being stuffed in cages. One of the main ways that we define free-range is with a measurement called stocking density.

This is a measurement of how many hens are allowed to roam on the outdoor range.

There is a set of national guidelines called the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry. It says there should be a maximum of 1500 birds per hectare outdoors.

But heaps of companies choose to ignore these standards. The Australian Egg Corporation has admitted about one third of free range egg companies stock more than 20,000 hens per hectare.


So it's good news that all the states and territories have finally agreed to develop a national information standard for free range eggs. Most importantly, it's enforceable.

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This means that egg companies will have to comply with minimum standards to be able to label their eggs as free-range.

And if they're misleading, they could face penalties of up to $1.1 million under the Australian Consumer Law. We've already got national standards for things like cosmetics, toiletries and care labels for clothes.

NSW minister for innovation and better regulation Victor Dominello led the charge for the national standard and described it as a "historic day."

"Anything at the moment is better than the status quo. The status quo is complete confusion and that confusion causes uncertainty and in many ways unfairness on the egg producers," he said.

"And it's not fair on consumers who don't know what the actual definition of free range is.

"What we've got out of today is an agreement to proceed with a national information standard that will provide that level of certainty which is good for producers, good for consumers and it really is an historic day for the egg industry right across Australia."

The decision will be welcomed by many in the industry, as it will help to create a level playing field.

Smaller producers say it is unfair for big companies to have so many birds in cramped conditions, and still be allowed to market their products as free range.

"I know a few 1,500 hens-per-hectare guys who are getting pushed out of the market at the moment," said Tom, a farmer from Kangaroo Island Free Range.

"I'm not saying they shouldn't produce eggs in that way, but they should be labelled 'barn yard' because that describes the system well, a lot of hens in a barn with access to a small yard, not free range."

The next step is for governments to consult with the egg industry, animal welfare groups and consumer groups, to decide on what those standards will be.

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They're hoping to come to an agreement by the end of the year.

In the meantime, check out this infographic. It shows which companies are abiding by the 1,500 stocking density guidelines. Coles and Woolworth brands both have a stocking density of 10,000, more than seven times the recommended standard.