Australians are forking out twice the cost of caged eggs to buy “free range”, but are not getting what they think they are paying for, analysis by consumer advocacy group CHOICE has found.
The group says egg companies are cashing in on the desire of shoppers to buy ethically, but the lack of a national standard has rendered the term “free range” meaningless.
“For the first time we’ve actually put a number on the amount of eggs being sold in Australia that don’t meet the free range expectations of consumers and it’s over 213 million eggs sold last year,” CHOICE spokesman Matt Levey said.
CHOICE says the Australian Egg Corporation Limited has admitted about one third of so-called free range egg productions stock more than 20,000 hens per hectare.
The model code of practice for the industry recommends a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare.
When CHOICE analysed 55 “free range” egg products, 20 companies refused to give information about how many hens were on their properties.
Twenty-one other “free range” producers revealed they stocked up to 10,000 hens per hectare.
Only 14 from 55 complied with the code of practice and had 1500 hens or less per hectare.
“It’s become an absolute farce,” Mr Levey said.
“Some producers are actually cashing in on Australia’s ethical shopping motivations without actually delivering the product that meets those expectations.”
CHOICE found Australians were currently paying on average 99 cents per “free range” egg, and about 55 cents per caged egg.
State and territory consumer affairs ministers are meeting in Melbourne on Friday to consider a national code for free range eggs.