Coles intensifies 'free range' egg production duping customers and cramming thousands of hens into sheds
Once again, supermarkets are attempting to dupe customers and highjack the business of genuine free range egg producers by raising hens according to their own controversial standard. With as many as 40,000 birds squeezed into sheds with multi levels, the aviary systems currently being used by the supermarkets to produce ‘free range’ eggs are clearly overstepping the mark.
Coles’ own brand free range standard allows 10,000 hens per hectare rather than the 1,500 hens/ha recommended in the Model Code. With these high stocking densities and single sheds housing over 30,000 hens, many birds rarely access the outdoors. Last year’s proposal by the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) to increase outdoor stocking rates for layer hens from 1,500 to 20,000 birds per hectare has since been withdrawn, and according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) their assessment showed that it failed to meet consumer expectations for free range production.
Humane Society International (HSI) initiated this debate when we submitted our Egg Corp complaint to the ACCC two years ago. Recently ACCC announced that ‘free range’ eggs are listed as one of their priorities for 2013 and HSI welcomes their support to help protect vulnerable consumers. Ms Verna Simpson, HSI Director, commented “Consumers would be shocked if they saw the systems supermarkets are utilising to produce their ‘free range’ eggs and HSI does not condone such misrepresentation. Eggs produced in these intensive aviary systems need to be labelled accordingly, and we suggest BARN YARD as a more appropriate term.” Ms Simpson continues “This new descriptor would help restore consumer faith in egg labels, and we believe consumers have the right to know exactly what they are paying for. Systems stocking more than 1,500 hens are simply not ‘free range’ and the major producers need to accept that.”
Meanwhile Jackie Healing, head of responsible sourcing at Coles, argues that their new standard gives “consumers affordable free-range eggs and certainty” however, these affordable eggs are simply not produced in a manner perceived as ‘free range’ by the public, and there is no ‘certainty’ when the full details of the standard is hidden from public view.
“It’s high time that the government stepped in to legislate a national standard for free range to protect the consumer and genuine free range farmers. To date HSI has collected over 30,000 signed postcards asking for 1,500 hens per hectare to be used in the free range definition, and we will continue campaigning until the Prime Minister takes note and resolves this ridiculous debate,” says Ms Simpson, HSI Director. “In the meantime, ACCC are investigating our complaint against Coles so we feel confident that such misleading claims will soon be stopped.”