Consumer watchdog Choice has submitted its second ever ‘super-complaint’ to NSW Fair Trading, requesting that the government body investigate whether 'free-range' egg claims are misleading consumers.
Launched in June 2011 by the minister for fair trading, the super-complaint project will allow Choice to present evidence to NSW Fair Trading that demonstrates that features of a market for consumer goods or services is, or appears to be, harming the interests of consumers.
In the super-complaint Choice demonstrated that on average, free range eggs can cost up to twice as much as caged eggs and close to a fifth more than barn eggs. Despite the significant increase in price, Choice says that consumers cannot be confident that they are purchasing a truly free range product as there is no consistency in industry standards.
“Cracks are beginning to appear in the free-range egg market, which accounts for around 40% of eggs sold in Australia, with considerable variation in the conditions in which supposedly free-range chickens are kept,” said CHOICE lead campaigner Angela McDougall.
“CHOICE research has shown that consumers purchasing free-range eggs expect that the layer hens have access to the outdoors and space to move around with limits on the number of birds on the outdoor range – but the Australian Egg Corporation itself has admitted there is huge variation in the conditions in supposedly free-range operations.”
Choice is expecting to receive a response from NSW Fair Trading before the end of the year when the 18 month trail agreement of the super-complaint project will be completed.
“We commend the NSW Government and Minister Anthony Roberts for their ongoing commitment to the super-complaints trial, which has the potential to become a powerful tool in protecting consumers’ interests. CHOICE hopes that NSW Fair Trading will agree with the concerns outlined in the super-complaint, and take action to give consumers confidence around free-range claims in NSW,” McDougall says.
At present, the national model code defines ‘free range’ birds as having a stocking density maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare, however the Australian Egg Corporation has been pushing to increase the stocking density to 20,000.
The Queensland government recently increased the 1,500 stocking density to 10,000 birds per hectare – marking a 667 percent increase. While the South Australian government has now defined free range eggs as a maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare.