ACCC rejects Egg Corp’s free range farce

Trademark rejection shows need for official national standard

CHOICE welcomes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s decision to reject the Australian Egg Corporation Limited’s (AECL) proposed maximum of 20,000 birds per hectare for free range eggs.

The ACCC said the AECL’s proposed maximum, which is 13 times greater than accepted limits, was likely to mislead consumers about eggs labelled ‘free range.’¹

“Consumers told CHOICE that 20,000 birds per hectare is simply not what they expect from free-range eggs and today the ACCC has recognised that,” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.

In May 2012 a CHOICE survey found that less than 1% of 900 respondents think the egg industry’s proposed free-range egg standard meets their expectations of what free range means.

CHOICE’s survey also showed that buying free range eggs is essential or important to 85% of respondents, with close to half relying solely on the words ‘free range’ when choosing eggs.²

“The ACCC’s decision sends a clear message to the AECL that its attempt to set a stocking density that bears no relation to consumer expectation or existing definitions is not ok,” says Ms Just.

“The decision should also serve as a warning to those companies which, according to the AECL, use stocking densities up to 100,000 birds per hectare for eggs labelled free range.”

More than 3000 people signed an open letter voicing their concerns about the AECL’s proposed stocking density.³

“People are clearly paying a premium for these eggs, yet their expectations of contented clucking chooks roaming around open green pastures aren’t always reality,” says Ms Just.

“CHOICE believes that now, more than ever, we need an official, national free-range standard so Australians can have confidence they are getting what they pay for when they buy free range eggs.”

Currently Queensland is the only state to have a law for maximum stocking density, which they set at 1500 birds per hectare.  However, the push is continuing, as Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren introduced the Free-Range Eggs Labelling Bill which she says complies with the Western Australian Code of Practice for Poultry. The state code reflects the maximum outdoor stocking density for free range egg laying hens set in the national Model Code of Practice, which is 1500 birds per hectare.  Hopefully this code continues to spread.

Free range-eggs make up almost 40% of eggs sold and are the fastest growing category within egg sales.