There have been renewed calls for greater clarity around the labelling of free-range eggs, following concerns the new labelling information standard will further confuse consumers.
Under new standards, eggs will be labelled as free-range if they have ‘meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range’ and an outdoor stocking density of less than 10000/ha.
The egg industry has urged consumers not to be misled by interest groups, yet consumer advocate groups have said the public expects better.
Egg Farmers Australia chief executive officer John Dunn said these renewed calls were simply ‘‘moving the goal posts’’, with national standards already decided in March last year by consumer affairs ministers across Australia.
‘‘Many different options were considered on what farming system should constitute free-range under a national information standard,’’ Mr Dunn said.
‘‘Many argued that free-range egg farming should be confined to an external stocking density of 1500 hens/ha.
‘‘After an exhaustive examination of the evidence and a lengthy process of public consultation by Treasury, it was decided that this argument could not be substantiated.’’
Consumer advocacy group Choice said standards were far from what consumers expected from free-range eggs and a standard of 1500/ha made ‘‘a great deal of sense’’.
Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey said large industrial operations had lobbied to have the limit raised to meet their current practices.
‘‘This is just a rubber stamp for the incredible rip-off of consumers,’’ Mr Godfrey said.
‘‘We don’t think that these standards will fix the problem.’’
The standards require producers to prominently disclose the outdoor stocking density of hens laying free-range eggs, to allow consumers to easily compare between different brands.
‘‘The requirement for stocking density to be displayed on the pack is consistent with labelling changes championed by consumer group Choice in a June 2015 report,’’ Mr Dunn said.
The standard follows action by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission against a number of egg producers who were alleged to have misled consumers about whether their eggs were truly free-range.
The new free-range egg labelling standard is expected to be in place by March.