Supermarkets called to correct free range egg deception
The race to intensify free range egg production has taken a few unpredicted twists and turns. While the Australian Egg Corporation has withdrawn its application before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that would have seen stocking rates for layer hens explode to 20,000 per hectare, it appears that the baton has been handed to the supermarkets who are making a desperate charge to claim the free range label and push their interpretation of the term over the line.
While Coles is hoping consumers will take a giant leap of faith and believe that they have suddenly switched from caged to free range production for their Coles branded eggs, Woolworths has simply countered with the dismissive comment that they do not use intensive farming practices.
The free range label is so coveted that supermarkets are prepared not to heed the warnings delivered by the ACCC in their initial assessment of the Egg Corporation’s bid to take control of the free range brand and feather the nests of only the large corporate producers.
Aviary systems that provide high rise accommodation for hens and effectively double or triple the indoor stocking rates for the birds are a relatively new weapon in the battle to win the right to label intensive eggs as free range. Outdoor stocking rates of 10,000 hens per hectare and sheds containing anything up to 40,000 hens will never be able to provide appropriate access to the outdoors for the birds or an environment that in any way meets the consumer’s expectation of free range.
Hens that are trained from day one to navigate the labyrinth of levels in one of these aviaries, that are only supplied feed and water indoors and live in an environment of controlled dim lighting, rarely access the outdoors, even if they manage to find the very limited pop-hole access provided for them, and if they escape to the outside they will only find a barren and uninviting yard in which to range.
“While Humane Society International (HSI) applauds any move that will free hens from cages we cannot condone the mislabelling of eggs or the misrepresentations being made to consumers. Developing a new category or descriptor for these cage free units that will be embraced by egg buyers and endorsed by the entire egg industry would be a far more sustainable option. This would avoid further eroding the integrity of the free range industry and consumer faith in egg labels,” says Lee McCosker, Chief Operating Officer for Humane Choice. “HSI is suggesting BARN YARD as a more appropriate term.”
HSI has suggested that the Woolworths’ comments about not employing intensive farming practices are naive and misleading. HSI has called on Woolworths to retract this statement made to concerned customers that have questioned the integrity of their claims made on Select branded free range eggs.