Almost a third of Australian “free range” eggs in breach of industry code

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 16th April 2012

Almost a third of eggs labelled as “free range” in Australia are produced in conditions that breach the egg industry’s own regulations, according to new figures published by the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL).

A media statement published on the AECL’s website states that 29 per cent of free range egg production in Australia is sourced from farms that stock free range hens at densities greater than two birds per square metre (20,000 per hectare).

However, the current Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals only allows for a maximum of 1,500 hens per hectare (but states “any higher bird  density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover”).

The AECL said it does not consider this to be appropriate and that it wishes to draw a ‘line in the sand’ at a “responsible and transparent maximum outdoor or range density”.

The AECL believes the free range outdoor stocking density cap should be lifted 20,000 hens per hectare to meet growing consumer demand.

When the current version of the Code was approved by the Primary Industries Ministerial Council in 2002, it was scheduled for review in 2010.

The AECL’s statement said, “AECL believes there is no economic, scientific or consumer research supporting or justifying the suggested density of 1,500 hens per hectare. This figure was created in 2001 at a time when the free range egg market was in its infancy (8 per cent market share in 2001) compared to the growth it is experiencing today (25 per cent market share in 2011) and therefore does not represent the reality of the market today and into the future.”

Free Range Farmers criticise AECL plea to lift cap

The AECL’s call to lift the cap on stocking densities has been met with criticism from the Free Range Farmers Association (FRFA), a not-for-profit group of commercial egg farmers operating in the State of Victoria.

The FRFA promotes a stocking density limit of 750 hens per hectare for eggs to qualify as “free range”.

A statement from the FRFA said, “The FRFA believes that it is essential for the free range sector of the egg industry to ensure that the AECL is not successful with its plans for intensive production standards to be adopted in place of the extensive requirements of the current code.”