ACCC releases guidance on free range egg standard

The ACCC has released guidance for egg producers on its approach to enforcing the new National Information Standard on free range eggs, which comes into effect on 26 April 2018.

Under the new Standard, egg producers cannot use the words ‘free range’ on their egg cartons unless the eggs were laid by hens that:

  • had meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range during the daylight hours of the laying cycle
  • were able to roam and forage on the outdoor range
  • were subject to a stocking density of 10 000 hens or less per hectare, and that outdoor stocking density is prominently displayed on the packaging or signage.

“Shoppers are willing to pay a premium for free range eggs, but only if the chickens genuinely have regular access to an outdoor range. From April 26, free range must only be used by compliant egg producers so consumers can have confidence in the products they are buying,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

“If an egg producer’s hens are using the outdoor range on a regular basis and they satisfy the stocking density requirements, then the producer can call their eggs free range.”

The guidance also explains egg producers’ obligations under the misleading or deceptive conduct provisions of Australian Consumer Law. This includes representations made through marketing activities such as product packaging and advertising.

“If egg producers use images, pictures, or words, other than free range, that imply their eggs are free range when they are not, this would likely raise concerns under the Australian Consumer Law,” Mr Sims said.

“The ACCC is monitoring the market to ensure that free range claims are truthful and accurate and will continue to take action against those that don’t.”

Nestlé to go cage egg free

Nestlé,​ ​the​ ​world’s​ ​largest​ ​food​ ​company, has​ ​announced​ ​its​ ​commitment​ ​to​ ​eliminate​ ​cages​ ​from​ ​its​ ​egg​ ​supply​ ​chain​ ​worldwide.​ ​This policy​ ​will​ be adopted in 189 countries, including Australia, and will improve the lives of tens of millions of hens.

The multinational food giant sells everything from cereal to baby food. This new policy to phase out cage eggs will affect Nestlé products in Australia that include Lean Cuisine, Nesquik and KitKat.

Animals Australia said the​ ​commitment​ ​is​ ​a major​ ​step​​ ​toward​ sparing all hens from life in a​ ​cage​ ​across​ ​the​ ​global​ ​egg​ ​industry.

“We commend ​Nestlé’s​ ​ground-breaking​ ​animal​ ​welfare​ ​policy. As the largest food company in the world, this decision is a signal to the rest of the food industry that cage eggs don’t have a future,”​ ​said​ Jesse Marks, Animals Australia Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy.​ ​

“Australian consumers are concerned about the cruelty egg-laying hens suffer in cages, with a recent Roy Morgan poll showing that 67 per cent of Australians are more likely to support a company that has a policy not to use or sell cage eggs. This decision by Nestlé demonstrates how leaders in the corporate sector can listen to their customers and respond.”

Nestlé’s commitment comes just a week after a similar decision from the largest global hotel chain, Wyndham Hotel Group, which operates 26 hotels and resorts across Australia and 8,100 hotels globally.

Nestlé and Wyndham Hotel Group now join the growing number of major companies in Australia, and globally, that are cutting cage eggs from their supply chain – including, Subway, McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks, Woolworths, Aldi, McCain, Arnott’s, Hilton, and many others.

These​ ​ policies followed negotiations with​ ​members​ ​of​ ​​the Open​ ​Wing​ ​Alliance​,​ ​a​ ​global​ ​coalition​ ​of​ ​animal​ ​protection organisations,​ including Animals Australia​.  Both commitments will result in a complete phase out of cage eggs in Australia by 2025.

Egg producer penalised $750,000 for misleading ‘free range’ claims

The Federal Court has ordered Snowdale Holdings Pty Ltd (Snowdale) to pay penalties totalling  $750,000 for making false or misleading representations that its eggs were ‘free range’, in proceedings brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“This is the highest penalty that a Court has ordered in relation to misleading ‘free range’ egg claims. It reflects the seriousness of Snowdale’s conduct and the importance of egg producers being truthful about marketing claims they make,” ACCC Commissioner Mick Keogh said.

“Consumers pay a higher price for free range eggs, so when a ‘free range’ claim is made, it’s important that consumers are purchasing eggs laid by chickens in free range conditions.”

“Farmers who have invested in changes to their farming practices so they can make valid credence claims such as ‘free range’ also need protection from others making false credence claims,” Mr Keogh said.

Snowdale supplied eggs labelled as ‘free range’ in Western Australia under brands including Eggs by Ellah, Swan Valley Free Range and Wanneroo Free Range. Snowdale also promoted its eggs as ‘free range’ on the Eggs by Ellah website from May 2013.

In May 2016 the Federal Court found that Snowdale’s labelling of its eggs as ‘free range’ between April 2011 and December 2013 was misleading or deceptive, and amounted to false or misleading representations. The Court found that most of the hens from Snowdale’s sheds did not go outside as the farming conditions significantly inhibited them from doing so. These conditions included the number of pop holes, the number of birds per metre of pop hole, the flock size inside the shed and the shed size.

The Court has also made an order preventing Snowdale from using the words ’free range’ in connection with its eggs unless the eggs are produced by hens that are able to go outside on ordinary days, and most of which actually go outside on most days.

Snowdale was also ordered to implement a consumer law compliance program and pay a contribution towards the ACCC’s costs.

Taste trumps animal welfare for free range egg consumers

Australian consumers who buy free range eggs are more likely to do so because they believe the eggs taste good than because they are concerned about animal welfare, according to new research.

In a paper published today in the international journal Anthrozoös, researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Food Values Research Group have found that taste and quality of eggs rank high in people’s considerations for purchasing eggs with ethical production claims.

To better understand the reasons why people make ethical food choices, researchers conducted interviews at shopping malls and ran focus groups to find out about their food purchasing habits.

“People who said they bought free-range eggs readily told us that they thought the eggs were of better quality, more nutritious, and safer to eat,” says lead author Dr Heather Bray, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Humanities.

“Consumers saw free-range as more ‘natural’ for the chickens – so the eggs were ‘naturally’ better.

“These findings are in many ways unexpected, because we thought that the welfare of chickens would be the first reason people would give for purchasing free-range eggs,” Dr Bray says.

Despite some participants describing caged-egg production as “cruel”, they did not tend to emphasise welfare reasons as critical for their purchase of free-range eggs. Instead, participants felt that the free-range chickens were “happier”, ate a more “natural” diet, and thus produced a better quality of product.

“These findings help us to better understand the complex issues involved in making ethical food choices,” Dr Bray says.

“Our research suggests that consumers are more likely to purchase a food product if it’s both ‘ethical’ and viewed as being of better quality, rather than for ethical reasons alone. Consumers think about animal welfare in a much broader context – they believe that better welfare is connected to a better product.”

The study also revealed high levels of awareness among participants of caged-egg production compared with other types of animal farming. Participants were more likely to buy free-range or cage-free eggs compared with meat that is marketed as being produced ethically, in part because the price difference is much smaller in eggs.

“Taste and quality are strong motivations for purchasing and may be part of the reason why people are prepared to pay a higher price,” Dr Bray says.

The researchers say more studies are needed to better understand consumer motivations behind purchasing products with ethical production claims, in order to explore whether changes in production methods or labelling would be supported by consumers.

 

NZ’s Ewing Poultry eggs get animal welfare approval

Ewing Poultry, a farm south of Nelson, is the latest to become SPCA Blue Tick approved for its free range and barn eggs sold throughout New Zealand.

According to SPCA Blue Tick Business Unit Manager Ségolène de Fontenay, this is good news for consumers who will now have an even wider variety of high welfare approved eggs to choose from.

“We are excited to welcome Ewing Poultry, they’ve received SPCA Blue Tick approval on their free range and barn eggs by meeting our stringent high animal welfare standards. Consumers can buy these eggs with assurance that the hens are well looked after,” said de Fontenay.

Lloyd and Gwen Ewing established Ewing Poultry in 1981. In 2004 they saw growing demand for free range eggs and started their high animal welfare journey by changing their method of producing eggs from caged to free range.

The SPCA Blue Tick’s high animal welfare standards fit well with our farming philosophy and we support our customers’ awareness of knowing and caring how their food is farmed, says Ewing Poultry General Manager Paul Ewing.

“Our priority is to the welfare of our hens and our ongoing commitment is to give them the best conditions possible and providing our customers with high quality, tasty eggs” says Paul Ewing

“By moving forward to a sustainable future we researched European standards for free range and barn systems and we found within New Zealand the SPCA Blue Tick® is in keeping with the high EU standards and our own philosophy of high animal welfare standards,” he concludes.

Consumers can choose from a variety of high welfare approved eggs including Sungold Organic free range, Golden Downs Organic free range, Doug’s free range, Quail Valley free range, Sungold barn/cage free and Ewing barn/cage free.

Australia experiencing an egg shortage

Australian consumers are facing an egg shortage that has been caused, in part, by new free range regulations.

The SMH reports that, apart from the regulations, the shortage has also been caused by a 3-4 per cent increase in demand for eggs as well as the onset of winter.

Because of cold weather, hens lay fewer eggs during winter. And under the new regulations introduced in March farmers are required to limit hen density to 10,000 per hectare and ensure that all birds can regularly move outdoors. Otherwise the eggs they produce may not be labelled free range.

The exact rules regarding barn dimensions have yet to be finalised and, as a result, farmers are delaying making any changes. This is affecting free range production.

In turn, as a result of the shortage of free range eggs, consumers have turned to caged eggs and the overall egg stocks have dropped.

Queensland United Egg Producers CEO John Coward told the ABC it would take up to three months to resolve the shortage.

“I haven’t noticed any price increase at the moment,” he said.

“Retailers, obviously being in a very competitive world, will try to keep those down.

“But if they have to start moving eggs around the countryside to meet demand … that would probably put some upward pressure on price.”

‘Free range’ egg producer found guilty of deceiving public

Major Western Australian egg producer Snowdale Holdings has been found guilty of falsely claiming some of its eggs were free-range.

AAP reports that The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought the action against Snowdale in connection with its farms in Carabooda and the Swan Valley in December 2013.

The Federal Court of Australia heard that between 2011 and 2013, Snowdale produced eggs which were sold as popular free range brands, free range eggs by Ellah, Wanneroo Free Range Eggs, Mega Free Range Eggs, Swan Valley Egg Farm, Swan Valley Egg Co, and Carabooda Lovingly Hand Packed free range eggs.

On Wednesday, Justice Antony Siopis found that the ‘free range’ claims were misleading to the public.

“Each of the sheds at Carabooda had the capacity to house about 18,000 laying hens, whilst the shed at the Swan Valley farm had the capacity to house about 12,740 laying hens,” Judge Siopis said.

“I find that most hens did not exit [the sheds] and roam freely on an open range on most days.”

Snowdale said in a statement that it no longer sources eggs from the farms at Swan Valley and Carabooda.

“The Federal Court’s reasons do not have any bearing on Snowdale’s current free-range egg farm located in Gingin,” the company said.

“Snowdale’s free-range egg farm in Gingin uses world-best farming practices and has outdoor ranges stocked at no more than 1,500 chickens per hectare, more than six times than the forthcoming national free range standard.”

The company may appeal the decision. The Court said penalties will be announced at a later date.

Free-range chickens not so ‘free’

Australian consumers are being deceived by false claims from so-called ‘free-range’ egg producers.

Free-Range Egg Farms, which produce the brands Ecoeggs, Port Stephens and Field Fresh, have been issued a $300,000 fine by the Federal Court for falsely labelling their eggs as ‘free-range’. This is the sixth similar instance in the past five years, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

This latest instance comes just one month after Australian Consumer Affairs Ministers’ controversial decision to define free-range as hens having ‘regular and meaningful access to the outdoors’, and a maximum outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare. This is in opposition to the Model Code of Practice recommendation of no more than 1,500 hens per hectare.

“Today’s ruling shows that consumers can’t trust free-range egg labels in supermarkets,” said CHOICE spokesperson Erin Turner.

“These producers have knowingly misled and deceived customers yet their practices will likely be protected by a weak free-range egg standard and consumers will be the ones to lose.”

CHOICE prescribes to the Model Code of Practice recommendation that hens are stocked at no more than 1,500 hens per hectare.

“Eggs that come from hens that don’t go outside and have high stocking densities don’t meet consumers’ expectations and don’t deserve the free-range label,” said Turner.

“We are calling on consumers to continue boycotting bad eggs stocking at 10,000 hens per hectare, including Ecoeggs, Port Stephens and Field Fresh. Consumers should look for eggs from hens stocked at 1,500 hens per hectare which are much more likely to free roam.”

CHOICE have developed an app called CluckAR, which allows consumers to scan free range egg cartons and figure out which eggs live up to their claims.

Choice launches free range egg app

Consumer group CHOICE has launched an app which provides consumers with an ‘augmented reality’ view of the various living conditions of birds categorised as ‘free range’.

The app comes in the wake of Consumer Affairs Ministers’ decision last week to sign off on a national standard for free-range eggs that has no requirement for hens to ever actually go outside and allows free-range eggs to be produced by hens stocked at up to 10,000 birds per hectare – more than six times the current voluntary limit of 1,500.

“With Augmented Reality on your phone or tablet we now have the power to make labels tell the truth, even when government won’t require it,” said CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey.

“With the new ‘free-range’ rules clearly reflecting the commercial interests of the big industrialised egg producers over consumers, we had to intervene in this market to make up for the failing of Consumer Affairs Ministers.

“The app gives power back to consumers, helping them navigate the free-range egg market. By scanning a free-range egg carton, consumers can quickly see which eggs live up to the ‘free-range’ claim.

According to CHOICE, at a minimum, a standard for free-range eggs should require that eggs labelled ‘free-range’ are produced in farms where chickens actually go outside and have a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1,500 hens per hectare.

CHOICE claims that 213 million eggs were sold as free-range in 2014 that didn’t meet consumers’ expectations.

 

Sunny Queen Farms commits to lower hen density for free range eggs

Sunny Queen Farms brand has committed to an outdoor hen density of no more than 1500 hens per hectare in their free range egg farms across Australia.

The move means that the brand will comply with the hen density range recommended bythe Model Code of Practice, a document produced by the Primary Industries Standing Committee and published by the CSIRO.

According to the company, the move will make Sunny Queen Farms the only major free range brand that can claim an outdoor density of 1500 hens per hectare.

As Choice points out, several smaller free range egg producers do meet the Model Code of Practice, with some having outdoor hen density of as low as 7 per hectare. However, many producers claiming to be free range have hen density of up to 10,000.

Free Range eggs account for almost 41 per cent share of total eggs in supermarkets, however Sunny Queen Australia MD John O’Hara said consumers may not be getting what they think they are buying.

“There have been a lot of conflicting opinions around different densities and definitions for Free Range. Consumers want more clarity so they know what they are buying,” he said.

O’Hara added that hens at Sunny Queen have access to the outdoors for at least 8 hours a day where they can forage and roam freely.

“We give consumers access to a live webcam at the farms so they can see first-hand the chooks roaming around outside – we call it our Chooktracker,’ he said.

Federal ministers give a cluck about egg rip-off

Consumer advocacy group Choice has welcomed today’s start of consultations on free-range egg labelling as the next step in ending the ‘free-range’ rip off.

Choice says that the consultation paper, released by the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP on behalf of the nation’s consumer affairs ministers, paints a clear picture of the current free-range farce and identifies options for unscrambling the problem.
 
“As the consultation paper shows, an increasing number of Australians are paying a premium for eggs labelled free-range without having any certainty they’re getting what they pay for,” said Matt Levey, Choice Director of Campaigns and Communications.
 
“In the absence of a national, enforceable standard for free-range, it is relatively easy to mislead consumers, and unfortunately there is a financial incentive for some producers to do so. The result is that consumers lose, as do producers of genuine free-range eggs,” Mr. Levey said.
 
The consultation follows a Choice investigation in June this year estimating a minimum of 213 million eggs sold in Australia last year under the 'free-range' label failed to meet consumers' expectations of the free-range claim.
 
“Based on consumers’ expectations, it’s estimated Australians could be paying between $21-$43 million per year for eggs that aren’t the real deal,” Mr. Levey said
 
“It’s a rip-off that distorts the market and undermines competition, and that’s why it’s so important that governments step in and agree a genuine free-range standard that reflects what consumers expect.

“Our research has shown that 84 per cent of egg buyers agree that a mandatory national standard is needed while only 2 per cent did not believe there should be a standard. Clearly it’s time to get cracking.”
 
With consultations open until 2 November, Choice is calling on consumers to support a genuine standard and contribute to a free-range information campaign.
 
"Support for the campaign has been overwhelming with consumers already donating almost $9,000 to send a message to government that they want real free-range," said Mr. Levey.