‘Free-range’ definition still divides opinion

May 11, 2017

The VFF and the RSPCA are again at loggerheads over free-range eggs.

The information standard for free-range eggs put into place at the end of April to help consumers make informed choices will not meet the needs of consumers, says RSPCA Australia.

But VFF Egg Group president Tony Nesci said the ‘‘radical group’’ could not be satisfied.

The standard, which was agreed to in March following consultation with industry and consumer groups and two weeks ago registered under Australian Consumer Law, states that eggs labelled as free-range must have ‘‘meaningful and regular’’ access to the outdoors, with an outdoor stocking density of 10000 hens, or less, per hectare.

Yet the RSPCA has said the allowed stocking density of 10000 hens/hectare is unlikely to meet consumer expectations and the standard fails to provide further clarity surrounding what the term ‘free-range’ 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,’’ RSPCA senior policy officer and animal law specialist Jed Goodfellow said.

‘‘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,’’ he said.

‘‘Lawyers defending poor farming practices will have a field day with them.’’

Dr Goodfellow said while the standard addressed stocking density, it failed to address various other factors including flock size, barn layout, perching and nesting provided and the quality of the range.

Mr Nesci hit back, saying the RSPCA should ‘‘concentrate on cats and dogs’’.

‘‘When it’s all said and done these new labelling laws are there for a consumer to have a choice.

‘‘It will clearly state at what stocking density the birds are kept at. It is then up to the consumer to buy what is morally right for them.

‘‘There will never be an appeasing of this radical group.

‘‘They should concentrate on dogs and cats and leave livestock alone. They shouldn’t be meddling in things they have no idea about.’’

Federal Small Business Minister Michael McCormack said the labelling information standard gave Australians more information about the eggs on supermarket shelves.

‘‘The new standard will also remove uncertainty faced by producers who choose to label their eggs free-range,’’ he said.

‘‘The stocking density will need to be prominently displayed on the packaging to allow easy comparison between different eggs on supermarket shelves.’’

Throughout the discussions the RSPCA continually argued the stocking density should be lower, with 1500 hens/hectare considered free-range, but Mr McCormack said a number of opinions were taken into consideration in the final decision.

‘‘My decision takes into consideration the views of consumers, advocacy groups and industry, and provides a sensible balance with a focus on informing consumers — so they can make a choice that’s right for their needs.’’

More in Rural
Login Sign Up

Dummy text