Australian Egg Corporation Limited denied free-range trademark

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th November 2012

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued feedback to suggest it will deny the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) a Certification Trade Mark over new “free range” egg standards.

The ACCC, which is the government’s consumer protection agency, has responsibility to ensure that certified trade marks are not used in a way that may mislead consumers. The ACCC has indicated that the Australian Egg Corporation’s proposed standards do not meet legislative requirements in the Trade Marks Act and may “mislead” consumers.

The ACCC has said that it will make its final decision by 2 December, 2012.

The AECL in its proposed new “free-range” certification standards would have allowed producers to run 20,000 birds per hectare. The current egg industry code, although not legally binding, limits free-range egg producers to 1,500 birds per hectare. The ACCC’s concern is that this is too big a change to the definition of “free range,” and the AECL certification of “free range” would be misleading if its standard did not meet a reasonable consumer’s expectations.

The ACCC’s initial assessment was informed by over 1700 submissions from consumers, egg producers, industry associations and consumer and animal welfare organisations. The focus of submissions was on provisions involving the production of ‘free range’ eggs under the rules.

“The strong public interest in this matter shows that consumers want clear and accurate labelling of eggs and the ACCC considers that the Australian Egg Corporation’s Certification Trade Mark proposal may be misleading,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

The ACCC’s initial assessment and decision to deny the “free-range” trademark has been supported by consumer advocacy group CHOICE.

CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just said that consumers had told CHOICE that 20,000 birds per hectare “is simply not what they expect from free-range eggs.”

“The decision should also serve as a warning to those companies which, according to the AECL, use stocking densities up to 100,000 birds per hectare for eggs labelled free range,” Ms Just said.

In spite of this, the AECL said in a statement that they remain confident that “there is overwhelming evidence in support of the new standards.”

The new “free-range” standards set out by the AECL cover 170 audit points, although “only a few” have raised concerns according to AECL Managing Director James Kellaway.

The AECL proposed “free-range” standards are part of an on-going controversy generated last month when AECL Managing Director James Kellaway attacked Animal Australia’s Campaign targeting caged eggs. Australian Food News reported the AECL’s anger at the resulting Coles decision to stop selling Coles branded caged-eggs by January 2013.

Caged eggs are currently vital for volume production of eggs to meet supermarket customer demand. Coles’ decision to switch out of caged eggs may have been influenced by the alternative offered for a “free range” high-volume production system under the proposed AECL standard.