The decision by state and federal ministers on Thursday to define ‘free-range’ as up to 10,000 birds per hectare is a win for intensive egg producers and the National Party over consumer rights and animal welfare, according to the Greens.
At a Consumer Affairs Forum the ministers agreed that up to 10,000 hens per hectare can be called ‘free-range’, stocking densities will be required to be displayed on the pack, and hens must have ‘meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range’.
Greens animal welfare spokesperson, Senator Lee Rhiannon, said, ‘This is a victory for the industrial egg producers and the National Party over consumers and genuine free-range farmers.
‘Deputy Premier Barnaby Joyce has railroaded the state and federal ministers into agreeing on a standard that will entrench the exploitation of consumers and line the pockets of the industrial egg producers.
‘This decision is a disgraceful move by the National Party to misuse Australian consumer law to progress the interests of big industrial egg producers.
‘As a result of today’s decision, producers will be able to cram hens into a shed, label the eggs “free-range” and charge consumers a premium.
‘The assurance that hens on free-range farms will have “meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range” is a slight improvement on what the industrial egg producers were calling for but it doesn’t go far enough.
‘The inclusion of a safe harbour defence is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for producers that can’t even meet the weak free-range standards agreed to by the ministers.
‘If a producer is unable to meet basic, core principles of free-range egg production then they should not be able to use the free-range label.
‘Fragmenting the free-range standard and having multiple stocking densities displayed on packs will only deepen consumer confusion and lead to exploitation.’
Greens NSW MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi said, ‘NSW Minister for Fair Trading Victor Dominello has failed to stand up to the industrial egg producers and his National Party colleagues.
‘It is a poor reflection on a fair trading minister when he ignores the advice of consumer advocacy body CHOICE and the ACCC to side with big business interests.
‘The only winners today are the big egg producers like Pace Farms, who it was revealed just yesterday has a business relationship with the NSW government.
‘Once again, the Baird government has gone in to bat for big business, leaving consumers and animal welfare behind.’
• Consumer demand for free-range eggs has increased significantly over the last ten years. According to the Australian Egg Corporation, in 2005/06 eggs labelled free-range represented 20.3 per cent of the market in volume and 30.6 per cent in value. By 2013/14, this had grown to 38 per cent in volume and 47 per cent in value.
• According to CHOICE 213 million eggs were sold as free range in 2014 that didn’t meet consumers’ expectations of free range.
• A 2015 survey conducted by CHOICE found most consumers stated that 1,500 per hectare or below was the maximum outdoor stocking density they would want for a national free-range egg standard. Humane Society International (Australia) was also pushing for a maximum.