14 July 2013. From Australia comes the news that almost 30% of free-range eggs are miss-labeled.
The code for Welfare of Animals stipulates the acceptable density of 1500 hens per one hectare (6.7 m2 per hen), but the Australian Egg Corporation indicates that 30% of eggs labeled “free-range” has a density greater than 20,000 hens per hectare. That means that one hen has less than 0.5 m2 of area.
Although the code standard was endorsed by the state minister in 2002., it is obviously not enforced by law, and there is no legal definition of the term “free-range”. The code remains merely a set of guidelines, it is regarded as a recommendation, and there are no legal requirements for its implementation.
There were even a few cases where the cage eggs were marketed as free-range in order to achieve higher profit. After the fraud was discovered, the manufacturers were fined $50,000 – for false labeling, not for infringement of the code standard for Welfare of Animals.
Stocking density is not the only measure of free-range, there are other parameters to consider as time spent outdoor which must be at least 8 hours daily, and adequate measures to protect birds from predators. It is also important to ensure clean not contaminated land.
Australian surveys show that 85% of consumers who had chosen free-range products flagged animal welfare as being the primary reason for buying free-range.
What do you need to know?
The term “free-range” is defined differently in different countries, and in some it is non-existent.
For example, the USDA allows “free-range” labeling for hens that spend only part of the time outdoors.
In the European Union, one hen must have at least 4 m2 of space so the egg can be labeled free-range.
Nexus magazine, no. 73, June/July 2013