ACCC prioritises free range eggs protecting vulnerable consumers and the integrity of true free range farming
Humane Society International (HSI) is delighted by today’s announcement from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that “free range” eggs are listed as one of their seven priority areas for 2013. ACCC chairman Rod Sims commented that consumers are in the hands of the producer, leading to a particular vulnerability.
The on-going concerns about “free range” eggs have followed two years of representations and hard lobbying by HSI on behalf of true free range farmers and culminated in a damning report last November from the ACCC opposing the intensification of free range egg production. The theme throughout the comprehensive ACCC report is that the Australian Egg Corporation’s proposal to increase outdoor stocking rates for layer hens from 1,500 to 20,000 birds per hectare failed to meet consumer expectations for free range production.
“Industry has been relentless in their quest to highjack the term ‘free range’ because big business saw the potential to increase their profits substantially by labelling their eggs ‘free range’, misleading vulnerable consumers,” said Lee McCosker, Chief Operating Officer for Humane Choice. “The news that ACCC have made this important issue a priority for 2013 is a resounding victory for consumers, farmers and of course the hens. Put simply, if you label any egg ‘free range’ and it’s produced in a system stocking more than 1,500 birds per hectare, then you are clearly misleading your customers.”
A staggering 1,693 of the 1,700 submissions received by the ACCC last year on the proposed Egg Corporation Standards were in opposition. Only 7 submissions were in favour of Egg Corporation and they were probably by the producers most likely to benefit from the deception. Egg Corporation was quick to withdraw their controversial application before the end of 2012.
The race to intensify free range egg production has more recently seen supermarkets making a desperate charge to claim the free range label and push their interpretation of the term over the line. With major supermarkets endorsing their own rules, HSI welcomes the support from the ACCC as they step in to protect the consumer. We understand that many supermarket ‘free range’ eggs are being produced in aviary systems which are multi-level, highly stocked systems housing as many as 40,000 birds per shed, where many birds rarely access the outdoors.
“HSI does not condone the mislabelling of eggs or the misrepresentations being made to consumers, and we know consumers would be shocked if they knew such systems were being used to produce ‘free range’ eggs. 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 Verna Simpson, HSI Director. “HSI is suggesting BARN YARD as a more appropriate term.”
Today’s announcement by the ACCC is a welcome relief for true free range producers who were in danger of being put out of business. NSW, TAS, WA and South Australia all have Bills before parliament capping free range stocking rates at 1,500 birds per hectare and the ACCC findings would hopefully push these Bills over the line.