The Australian Egg Corporation is proposing that standards for "free range" eggs are changed to define free range production as covering all production up to 20,000 hens per hectare. This is a massive increase from the current standard of 1500 hens per hectare. This would allow much more cramped and unpleasant conditions for hens to be defined as 'free range' for the purpose of selling free range eggs.
Senator Rhiannon questioned Egg Corporation officials in Senate Estimates on May 22, where they defended increasing the density of hens in 'free range' production.
Due to a complaint from the Humane Society International, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has opened up the proposed standard for comments, particularly considering whether the new standard:
- would not be to the detriment of the public (the pubic detriment test); and
- would be satisfactory having regard to the principles relating to restrictive trade practices in Part IV of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and the principles relating to unconscionable conduct (Part2-2), unfair practices (Part 3-1), and safety of consumer goods and product related services (Part 3-3) in Schedule 2 (Australian Consumer Law) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (the trade practices test)
The new Egg Standard would effectively allow large egg producers to pack more hens into small spaces and brand their products as 'free range', making it harder for consumers to distinguish these eggs from those produced at lower densities, and reducing the value of 'free range' as a motivation for producers to provide more space for hens.
Submissions are required by 20th June 2012 and can be lodged by email to email@example.com.
On a state level, the Greens NSW are taking important steps to address the exploitation of genuine free-range farmers and consumers by the Egg Corporation and their large industrial egg producers.
Greens NSW MP and fair trading spokesperson John Kaye has a bill before NSW Parliament that would protect genuine free-range farmers and consumers by introducing a definition of free-range eggs and penalties for producers who misuse the term.
The bill has already passed through the Upper House and the Greens NSW are now campaigning to get the support of the Government in the Lower House. To read more about campaign and what you can do to help make the bill law visit truthinlabelling.org.au.