Australian regulator defines free-range egg standards

A new National Information Standard comes into force in Australia in April 2018, clarifying for producers and consumers the conditions for free range egg production.

(Nestle)
(Nestle)

A new National Information Standard comes into force in Australia in April, clarifying for producers and consumers the conditions for free-range egg production.

Following a series of cases for misleading “free range” claims that led to fines of as much as AUD750,000 (US$587,000), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published its updated standards for free range eggs.

“Shoppers are willing to pay a premium for free-range eggs, but only if the chickens genuinely have regular access to an outdoor range,” said Rod Sims, ACCC chairman. “From April 26, free range must only be used by compliant egg producers so consumers can have confidence in the products they are buying.”

Once the new standard comes into effect, producers will only can only label and sell their eggs if their flocks comply with a number of conditions. First of all, hens must have regular access to an outdoor range during daylight hours. Second, the birds must be able to roam and forage on the range. Third, the maximum stocking density must not exceed 10,000 birds per hectare (4,046 per acre), and finally, the outdoor stocking density must be clearly displayed on the pack and/or signage.

Sims stressed that the use of misleading or deceptive images or wording on packaging or in advertising to imply that eggs were produced under free range conditions when they are not would fall foul of Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

“The ACCC is monitoring the market to ensure that free-range claims are truthful and accurate and will continue to take action against those that don’t.” he said.

Included in the new standard is a statement introducing a “safe harbor” defense. This will give producers protection from any court proceedings brought against them under ACL relating to free range claims, providing they can demonstrate they have complied with the standard.

Last year, producer organization Egg Farmers of Australia supported the proposed free-range labeling standards.

“The new standard will bring simplicity and clarity to the term free range and it will ensure that when consumers choose to buy free range they will know exactly what they are getting,” said John Dunn, the organization’s CEO. “This is a win for consumers, and a win for farmers.”

Consumer organization, Choice has criticized the new standard for not going far enough over maximum stocking density.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the new standard on free range eggs locks in a cap that is more than six times the previous voluntary limit of 1,500 hens per hectare,” said Tom Godfrey, Choice’s head of media.

In November last year, Australian Eggs, which provides marketing and research services for the industry, revised its quality assurance standard, Egg Standards of Australia (ESA) by adding a requirement for all participating egg farms to be independently audited. It justified the change, saying it would offer greater transparency over farming practices than enforcement alone.

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