When you think of the term ‘free range,’ what comes to mind?
If you’re imagining an enormous field with a handful of chickens pecking and exploring, you might be surprised to learn that there’s not yet an official legal definition of what ‘free range’ means when it comes to eggs.
Last year, thousands of RSPCA supporters contacted the Federal Government asking for a legal definition of free range eggs that would:
a) Provide certainty for consumers as to what they’re buying when they shop for free range eggs at the supermarket; and
b) Reflect good hen welfare.
The Government has now released the draft Information Standard for Free Range Egg Labelling for public comment. Unfortunately, we’re quite concerned by its contents.
In the proposed Information Standard, free range eggs are vaguely defined as “eggs laid by hens who have meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range.” There are also five exceptions to the requirement to provide meaningful and regular access, without providing any real guidance as to what this access actually entails. The loopholes are wide enough to drive a truck through!
In terms of stocking densities, up to 10,000 birds per hectare are allowed. (The RSPCA’s proposed and preferred stocking density for free range is 1500 hens per hectare or 2,500 under a regular range rotation system.)
Not only will this proposed Information Standard be extremely tricky to enforce, it won’t provide consumers with any certainty as to whether the free range eggs they’re buying have actually come from hens with access to a quality outdoor range.
But we can speak up about this.
If you’d like to have your say on the definition of ‘free range,’ you can write to the Federal Treasury to ask for the Information Standard to provide consumers with certainty by:
- Tightening the exceptions for providing access to the outdoor range so that access cannot be denied on a routine basis;
- Including a requirement that regulators consider the following in determining what “meaningful and regular access” means:
o Flock size and stocking densities inside the barn;
o Size of openings relative to the number of hens;
o Placement of physical structures and architecture inside the barn;
o The condition of the outdoor range including adequate shelter and vegetation; and
o The extent to which hens actually access the range.
Submissions are due this Friday 9 December. Head here to have your say.