Consumers reject egg corp’s free-range farce

CHOICE survey shows need for official national standard

A new survey by CHOICE has revealed less than 1% of respondents think the egg industry’s proposed free-range egg standard meets their expectations of what free range means.

The Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) has applied to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for approval of a standard that would set a maximum of 20,000 birds per hectare on the outdoor range for eggs labelled free-range.

The ACCC last week called for submissions on the AECL’s plan after stakeholders expressed concerns over the proposed maximum, which is 13 times the limit suggested in the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals.

“The message from consumers is loud and clear – 20,000 birds per hectare is simply not what they expect from a free-range product,” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.

The people’s watchdog put the free-range expectations of 900 consumers to the test, and found next to no support for a limit of 20,000 birds per hectare. While the majority said they didn’t know what the maximum should be, nearly 30% said a cap of 1,500 or less was reasonable.

“At the moment, a free-range label can mean anything from 750 to more than 20,000 birds per hectare, and the massive confusion in the marketplace shows why we need an official, national free-range standard,” says Ms Just.

CHOICE’s survey 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.¹ Other findings included:

  • 93% said they have purchased a free-range product in the previous 12 months;
  • Two-thirds expect that ‘free range’ eggs mean hens have freedom to move around and access the outdoors; and
  • Over half said they are willing to pay $3-$5 more per dozen for free range rather than cage eggs.

CHOICE says these results demand action, particularly given free range-eggs make up almost 40% of eggs sold and are the fastest growing category within egg sales.²

“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.

“That’s why CHOICE wants to see government introduce a national free range standard, and bring some much-needed integrity to this market.3

“However, in the absence of a national standard, we call on the Egg Corporation to work with consumer groups and animal welfare experts to develop a standard based on rigorous and independent research.”

CHOICE has launched an open letter and is calling on consumers concerned about the AECL’s proposed stocking density increase to sign on at

To read the CHOICE report and survey findings into free range go to

¹ Survey undertaken in April, 2012; 60% said it’s essential the eggs they buy are free range while a further 25% said its important. 43% rely solely on the words ‘free range’ on the pack to assure them a product is free range.

² Retail World Grocery Guide 2012

3Queensland is the only state with a legislated maximum stocking density which is 1,500 birds per hectare, while the ACT has regulations around labelling. Legislation capping stocking densities has been introduced by opposition parties in NSW and South Australia.

In the absence of a national standard, a proliferation of voluntary certification schemes has resulted in a range of maximum stocking densities. For example:

  • Free Range Farmers Association (Vic) – 750 birds per hectare
  • Australian Certified Organic – 1,000 birds per hectare
  • Humane Choice – 1,500 birds per hectare
  • RSPCA – 1,500 birds per hectare up to 2,500 on application with rotation of the outdoor range