New free range standard will not meet needs of consumers: RSPCA

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The Government’s new free range information standard offers some benefits, but fails to provide clarity over free range production practices and address consumer concerns, according to the RSPCA.

RSPCA Senior Policy Officer and animal law specialist Dr Jed Goodfellow said that while the Standard will require stocking densities to be disclosed on pack, which is a positive move, it fails to provide further guidance as to what free range actually means.

“The use of vague terms like ‘meaningful and regular access’ to an outdoor range is open to interpretation and may give rise to enforcement difficulties,” said Goodfellow.

“Stocking density inside and outside the barn is important to welfare, but so is flock size, the layout of the barn including the size and number of openings, the enrichment, perching and nesting provided, and the quality of the range; yet the Standard fails to address any of these factors.

“The Standard then goes on to list a number of broad exceptions to the requirement that are likely to make the ACCC’s job in policing dodgy free range claims even more difficult. Lawyers defending poor farming practices will have a field day with them.”

In addition, the allowed stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare – more than six times the current recommended limit – is unlikely to meet consumer expectations of what free range means.

RSPCA Australia believes free range hens should be stocked at a maximum rate of 1,500 hens per hectare or up to 2,500 if a regular rotation system is in place.

The RSPCA described the information standard as a missed opportunity that will not achieve the very purpose it was set out to achieve – that is, to provide consumers with confidence in the free range label.

The RSPCA trusts the ACCC will continue to closely monitor free range claims and encourages consumers to do their own research while also looking out for the stocking densities on pack.