Free range eggs not all their cracked up to be

Egg Corp’s Henny Penny free range egg standard shows need for national action

CHOICE has called on the Egg Corporation to reconsider its planned 13-fold increase in hen stocking densities for eggs it certifies as free range and instead work with government, animal welfare and consumer groups on a national standard that would meet consumer expectations.

The Egg Corporation announced in reports on Sunday that it would move to a maximum stocking density of 20,000 birds per hectare and that a lower limit would result in the importation of eggs from Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

This is despite the fact that the widely accepted standard for free range is 1,500 birds per hectare.

“The Egg Corporation is doing its best Henny Penny impression, running around and claiming the sky will fall in if its members have to meet genuine free range standards, without providing any evidence to back this up” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.

“The most important thing is for consumers to have confidence they are getting what they pay for, and increasing numbers of Australians are paying a premium for eggs labelled free range.

“It would make sense for industry to adapt to consumers’ changing preferences, rather than trying to dilute the standard to meet producers’ preferences,” says Ms Just.

To put the Egg Corporation’s 20,000 birds per hectare definition into perspective:

  • The RSPCA allows a maximum of 1,500 bird per hectare
  • Humane Choice sets the maximum at 1,500 birds per hectare
  • The Free Range Farmers Association allows a maximum of 750 birds per hectare

Free range eggs make up nearly 40% of eggs sold in Australia and were the biggest growth category in eggs in the last year with an increase in value of 10% and an increase in volume of 16%.

“CHOICE does not claim to be an expert on hen welfare but we know that an increasing number of Australian shoppers are buying free range eggs,” says Ms Just.

“If the Egg Corporation dilutes the standard 13-fold, there is a real risk that consumers will simply stop buying free range eggs, which would be bad news for genuine free range producers.”

CHOICE is calling on egg producers, including the Egg Corporation, to work with animal welfare experts, government and consumer representatives to develop a free range standard that gives consumers confidence that they are getting what they pay for.