Let’s Talk: Unscrambling the Australian free-range egg regulations 98

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Australian are bombarded with dozens of “free-range” egg products at the supermarkets yet many consumers are becoming wary of what this actually means. Those who purchase free-range eggs are supposedly supporting better conditions for hens than caged-egg farms, however, does the higher price and label hold true?

At the moment, free-range eggs come from farms with anywhere between 150 and 10,000 hens a hectare although, the Australian Egg Corporation has admitted this has not always been the case. They had previously accredited free-range egg farms with nearly 50,000 hens a hectare, so how are we supposed to know what free-range actually means? We are paying a hefty price for free-range products with the hope that the farming conditions are better for the hens. As consumers, we think we are making an informed decision about our purchases when in fact this label is very misleading.

For instance, another investigation in Australia found that free-range eggs from farms with 1500 hens a hectare average $1.12 per 100 grams but a farm with 10,000 hens a hectare charges more and is still considered “free-range”. This justifies why consumers are outraged; there doesn’t seem to be a standard for farmers to follow.

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The variation for what it means to be free-range is so broad. Currently, there are varying density benchmarks that are followed depending on the States and the supermarket chain. Many supermarkets, like Coles and Woolworths, have even agreed to stop selling caged eggs, which is great news but this just places even more importance on ensuring free-range egg standards are properly targeted.

We pay the price for free-range eggs thinking our government has passed regulations to ensure producers abide by them but that doesn’t seem to be working. In a recent survey, some producers including IGA Signature, Pirovic and Field Fresh even refused to reveal stock-density levels. The refusal to disclose this number is definitely concerning.

Other national standards and labels are in place for cosmetics and toiletries so why does it seem to be such an issue for free-range eggs?

Fortunately, Australia’s consumer affairs ministers, led headed by NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello, have agreed to take two massive steps forward to clear this uncertainty. First, acknowledging there needs to be a national enforceable standard and second, a time frame (end of 2016) to implement the new regulation. The agreed standard will help to provide customer guarantee and clarity for the producers. There will be no more excuses or acceptance for mislabelled eggs. Egg Farmers of Australia supports this national approach to egg labelling as well.

There is no word yet about what the number of hens per hectare will be but this poll suggests a tough decision will need to be made.

egg poll

Image source: SMH.com.au


Tell us, do you buy free-range eggs? Do you think there needs to be a new standard for regulation?

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The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I buy free range eggs because I “thought” that’s exactly what they were, and that’s what I paid for. I imagine if there are now going to be controls and regulations on the labellings and advertising, we will be paying more for our eggs because I assume there will have to be inspectors to check on this now?? Gone are the days when if we were told they were “free range” that they actually were that !!!

  2. I never trust the ones in the shops., love to get eggs fresh from people with chooks, side of road, local markets wherever we can

    6 REPLY
    • I don’t only got some stale ones once, never went to that source again. Apparently the ones you buy in the shop.are so many months old I read once??

    • Yes Wendy! We sold our own free range eggs for some years! We used to have people raving about how they tasted. Obviously the ones in the supermarkets are weeks old.

    • Yes Marlene, whenever I eat shop eggs I taste the difference and they make me feel ill afterwards, it must be the chemicals they feed them

    • Wendy it is not chemicals, it is purely age and not having access to fresh grasses, bugs and the like that true free range hens have

  3. No one likes the idea of caged hens. Certianly not me as someone who has spent their working life working with and helping animals. People buy Free range eggs or hot chickens but most dont know what we are buying is what it is supposed to be. Where i live there is nothing to stop someone buying caged eggs and repackaging them as whatever they like. I know I regulate this on behalf of the govt. Eggs MUST be stamped on the egg before they are sold so if in any doubt contact Primary Industry department in your state, or buy some hens and grow your own.

    2 REPLY
    • I hv never seen a stamp on any eggs since Ever. N yet I buy eggs every week @ woollies !!!! Where am I wrong David Frost ? I know the box is stamped though, may be u can guide me ! Pls Thk u

    • Jacqueline It depend where you are and if you you have an industry .We dont, every egg comes from somewhere eles. . However if you are in the main southern states there should be a stamp with a yellow dye on the egg , often hard to see. The carton has a number near the date label. That number tells us as Regulators the date layed farm & shed number, so if anyone gets sick we can trace it back to find out why. The really expensive eggs the number is very clear. However some states have had an exemption for a couple of years.

  4. anything below 15000 per hectare will be paying up to 10$ per carton who is up to this , am happy way things are ,

    2 REPLY
    • There is a free range farm in Glengarry Victoria, who has truly free range eggs. Have thousands of chooks! They sell for about $5 I think.

    • Lots of true free range farmers out there with under 1000/ hectare and price about Six for large fresh eggs and they are also organic

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