NSW Commissioner for Fair Trading Rod Stowe has encouraged consumers and businesses to have their say on the labelling of free range eggs.
However NSW Farmers oppose the move, saying it is peremptory and want a strict definition of free range as requiring just one square metre of outside space per bird must stay.
Mr Stowe welcomed the Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) on free range egg labelling published this week by the Federal Government on behalf of consumer affairs agencies across Australia.
‘This is part of an important national discussion which is ultimately designed to provide clarity and consistency regarding the use of free range egg labelling,’ Mr Stowe said.
‘NSW has taken the lead on this issue, developing a set of policy options for the Consumer Affairs Forum in June which resulted in consumer affairs ministers agreeing to a nationally consistent standard being drafted.’
Currently there is no binding definition for free range eggs or universal labelling requirements leading to confusion for both consumers and producers.
Information standards are designed to ensure information is consistent and consumers can make informed decisions about the product they are purchasing. They give much needed certainty to both consumers and industry.
Once a national information standard is developed, businesses must ensure their product labels comply with the legally enforceable standard under Australian consumer legislation.
After four weeks of national consultation, a further RIS will outline final options and a cost-benefit analysis, which ministers will consider at the next Consumer Affairs Forum in Canberra in February.
NSW Farmers President Derek Schoen said: ‘The ACCC has been keen to put forward a common sense view on this issue but it’s hard to see the common sense in starting at the finish line.
The consultation process is barely underway and the ACCC appears to have already made up its mind on the issue.
‘NSW Farmers fully supports the ACCC’s important role in enforcing misleading product claims but when this complex issue is viewed in black and white, the result is unintended supply chain regulation out of step with consumer expectations.
‘Industry welcomes clarity on ‘free range’ labelling to ensure we can enhance consumer confidence but the process must first recognise that the vast majority of free range production already meets consumer expectations.
‘On the current ACCC definition, producers supplying the vast majority of free range eggs sold in Australia would need to reinvest in new production facilities or be at risk of enforcement action.’