Consumer fraud by Big Egg must stop, says HSI
29th March, 2016
With only days to go until the Consumer Affairs Ministers meet to make the call on the long-debated definition for ‘free range’ eggs, the big industrial egg producers are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to get a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare over the line. But they are up against the biggest voice of all, those of the thousands of Australian consumers who had their say during the public consultation leading up to this major decision. Treasury received almost 10,000 comments, either as a formal submission, an email, or lodged via their website, with the majority calling for a stocking density of 1,500 hens per hectare, in line with that recommended by CSIRO’s Model Code of Practice.
Humane Society International (HSI) is amused by the latest statements by the big industry players in this absurd battle. This week they have resorted to scare tactics in the media saying that the price of free range eggs could surge to $10 a dozen if the Ministers decide the test for using the term ‘free range’ is whether “most hens go outside on most ordinary days”. They threaten that such a definition would mean investing in expensive GPS technology to track each hen’s movements, and employing “chicken wranglers” to force flocks out of barns. What a ‘yolk’! They instead want hens to have ‘access’ to the outdoors which basically means their hens may never even step outside.
HSI Director Ms Verna Simpson said, “Consumers have voiced that they are happy to pay a premium for real free range eggs and they deserve nothing less. Besides, the retailer decides the final cost in store. The introduction of a National Standard limiting the stocking density to 1,500 hens per hectare along with appropriate conditions would allow consumers to finally get what they’re paying for. Australian consumers overpaid an estimated $375 million last year on false credence claims and this deception has to stop.”
HSI’s Ms Simpson continued, “It’s telling that Sunny Queen, one of Australia’s biggest egg industrial producers, recently committed to a 1,500 hens per hectare stocking density prompted by their in-house research on consumer expectations. Although HSI applauds this decision, we remain concerned that they have ignored a number of other critical factors such as maximum density inside the sheds, and flock size.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also supports this view, stating in their recently released Enforcement Guidance for free range hen egg claims that, ‘The discrete flock size is a threshold issue. While stocking density, barn size and flock size are inextricably related, it is the flock size which largely determines the ability of each hen to access an outdoor range.’ On true free range farms stocking 1,500 hens per hectare or less, during daylight hours it is unusual to find more than 10% of hens inside the sheds at any one time.
There is no doubt that the term ‘free range’ holds with it an expectation for every consumer who makes the conscious decision to buy eggs with those words printed on the box. HSI’s National Consumer Survey showed that over 98% expect ‘free range’ hens to be stocked at no more than 1,500 birds per hectare, and more than 98% felt that allowing as many as 10,000 hens per hectare for eggs labelled ‘free range’ fails to meet their expectations. Many stated they were horrified this could be classed ‘free range’. Ms Simpson concluded, “We have high hopes that this public consultation will finally put an end to this shameful consumer fraud.”