Moves to overcrowd free range hens would fail animal protection, small business and consumers alike.
Voiceless, the animal protection institute, has tackled the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (Egg Corp) push for a massive change to the free range egg industry.
Legitimate free range farmers keep no more than 1500 hens per hectare, yet Egg Corp plans to allow 20,000 birds to be crowded into the same amount of space while hijacking the ‘free range’ label to deceptively describe these overcrowded conditions.
Voiceless has called on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to refuse this deeply flawed standard. In its submission to the ACCC’s public consultation (open until 30 June), Voiceless has warned of animal suffering, consumer deception and concentration of market power if Egg Corp is allowed to redefine the term ‘free range’.
Currently, there are varying standards for the production of free range eggs including those in the Model Code of Practice for Animal Welfare – Domestic Poultry, which sets a maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare. A maximum of 20,000 hens – as proposed by Egg Corp – exceeds the current standards by 13 times, yet would still be permitted to be labelled as ‘free range’, tricking consumers intent on supporting legitimate free range producers.
“Egg Corporation’s standard would be in complete opposition to the Model Code and would only create confusion for consumers,” said Ruth Hatten, Voiceless legal counsel.
“High stocking densities can force hens to compete for space, resulting in social stress and increased levels of aggression, displayed by way of feather pecking and cannibalism. How can that possibly be considered free range?”
In a survey conducted by Choice earlier this year, 60% of respondents said that when buying eggs, it was essential that they be free range. Less than 1% of those respondents thought that Egg Corp’s new standard met their expectations of free range products1. Meanwhile the RSPCA has stated that Egg Corp is not meeting animal welfare standards or consumer expectations.2
“If the ACCC decides to approve the Egg Corp Application, further confusion will exist as to what is a genuine free range egg. Consumer expectations of free range eggs do not match those of Egg Corp and therefore such a radical increase should not be considered,” said Hatten.
With the proposed new stocking density of 20,000 hens per hectare (2 per square metre), major egg producers will be able to increase their free range egg lines and obtain the financial benefits of doing so without needing to produce genuine free range eggs.
Voiceless also questions the integrity of Egg Corp’s decision, given that its Board consists in part of CEOs and managing directors of the biggest egg production companies, including Sunny Queen Eggs and Pace Farms.
“Such a high stocking density will unfairly put the large corporate producers at a distinct advantage, likely resulting in unfair competition between genuine free range egg producers and those falsely holding themselves out to be,” said Hatten.
Egg producers who currently follow free range practices with stocking densities of 1500 or below will suffer against large-scale competition if Egg Corp’s proposal is approved. Voiceless is concerned that such unfair competition could result in genuine free range egg producers going out of business as well as the loss of a product that meets consumer expectations of egg-laying hens living within larger areas.
Voiceless encourages consumers to make a submission to the ACCC before its public consultation ends on 30 June.
For more information or to organise an interview with Voiceless, please contact:
Elise Burgess | 02 9357 0703 | 0421 225 876 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1. CHOICE, ‘CHOICE Survey on Consumer Expectations of Free Range Egg Labelling Key Findings Report - May 2012’ 2.
- 2. Sue Neales, ‘RSPCA Steps into free-range egg row’, The Australian, 16 May 2012 <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/rspca-steps-into-free-range-...