CHOICE calls for boundaries around use of ‘free range’ label

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 19th September 2011

Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group CHOICE has renewed calls for a national standard on free range products through Standards Australia and involving industry, government and consumers.

CHOICE challenges the Australian Egg Corporation Limited’s (AECL) proposed draft standard which would permit densities of 20,000 chickens per hectare to be certified as free range. CHOICE describes the proposal as “fanciful” and “self-serving”.

CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just said, “There are at present too many foods being sold at a premium by calling themselves free range when there is no common or enforceable standard to ensure the animals have been anywhere near a paddock let alone a blade of grass.

“An agreed standard must reflect both the reasonable expectations of those consumers willing to pay extra for eggs labelled free range and the advice of animal welfare experts.”

To put the AECL’s proposed ‘free range’ standards into context, RSPCA’s Approved Farming Scheme standards allow maximums between 1500 and 2500 birds per hectare for eggs to be certified free range. The Free Range Egg and Poultry Association Incorporated sets a maximum stocking density of 750 birds for its certification, and the Primary Industries Standing Committee’s Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, which is not mandatory, sets the maximum stocking density for layer hens at 1500 birds per hectare.

Ms Just added, “Consumers deserve a fair, open and honest definition of free range products, be they eggs or beef, through proper consultation with all stakeholders.