Consumers could soon have clarity on what exactly is a free range chicken egg.
On Tuesday, consumer advocacy group CHOICE alleged that many free range eggs are less ethical than we might hope.
The industry ideal is no more than 1500 hens per hectare, which would afford each chook an average of six square metres.
Only 25 per cent of free range egg products investigated by CHOICE could be confirmed as meeting this ideal. Of 55 companies, 21 failed to meet it and a further 20 could not be confirmed, the consumer group reported.
What most media coverage failed to note was that the current industry standard allows for an unlimited number of hens to be grouped per square metre if certain conditions are met.
“Any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover,” the industry standard said.
An industry insider told The New Daily such ‘misconstructions’ were the result of widespread confusion over how the term is and should be defined.
“No one really has any idea what this is about,” NSW Farmers Egg Committee chairman Bede Burke said.
The industry denied any breaches of what amounts to a generous standard.
“We know that 99-plus per cent of people who are members of our state bodies are compliant with the model code of practice,” Mr Burke said.
For the sake of clarity, the industry has reportedly agreed upon a new standard, which will be presented to a meeting of state and territory consumer affairs ministers on Friday.
In future, each chook will get at least one square metre to itself – the standard imposed by Coles and Woolworths. This would decrease the ideal minimum for each hen by five square metres, but also remove the unlimited exception.
Some companies purport to already hold themselves to far higher standards.
The New Daily has obtained from CHOICE the names of egg producers that claim to give their hens the minimum seven square metres or more.
This is not an exhaustive list. Do you know any companies that should be added? Please email suggestions to: email@example.com