Farmers and suppliers who produce actual free range eggs want a crackdown on the definitions of ‘free range,’ after leading national suppliers were found to falsely make the claim.
Last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it would be taking a number of chicken suppliers to court, claiming they wrongly advertised chickens as free range.
According to the ACCC, national Steggles suppliers Baiada Poultry and Barttner Enterprises, La Iconica suppliers, Turi Foods and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation were misleading or deceptive in the promotion and supply of chicken products.
It said the impression that Steggles chickens are raised in barns with plenty of room to roam freely used in the advertisement and promotion greatly influence consumers, and in reality, most of the animals have a space no larger than an A4 sheet of paper.
La Ionica’s decided to stop using the “free to roam” claim and pay the $100 000 penalty as a result of the court case, but Steggles and Baiada are refusing to bow to pressure and are instead arguing against the ACCC’s claims.
And despite John Camilleri, the managing director of Steggles’ owner Baiada Poultry ordering the ‘free to roam’ slogan be removed from packaging, frozen poultry with the claim are still being purchased.
He told the Federal Court in Melbourne earlier this month that a chicken purchased by an ACCC representative last month that had the ”free to roam in large barns” slogan on it was out of the company’s control.
While the case continues, the debate over ‘free to roam’ claims is heating up.
Paul Papalia, Western Australia’s Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food, told the ABC this morning that consumers are still being delivered misleading information by companies finding loopholes in the ‘free range’ definitions.
"In WA there is no regulation or legislation governing the use of the term ‘free range’ and as a consequence consumers are being ripped off by some people who are claiming free range status on their eggs," he said.
"That is deceptive behaviour on behalf of some of those producers."
But the Agriculture Minister does not believe it is the state government’s responsibility to create rules around the housing of animals on farms, despite the RSPCA branding the decision by the Australian Egg Corporation to increase stock density from 1500 to 20 000 per hectare as inhumane.
"It’s not our job to regulate things that sit outside of the formal rules around animal welfare and environmental standards," he told the ABC.
While the Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA says it would welcome more regulation on the housing of animals, President John Simpson believes companies have to be realistic.
"I think we’ve got to move with the times," he said.
"We need to feed the growing population; a lesser density wouldn’t achieve those things."
A farmer of free range eggs, Jan Harwood, told the ABC that the state government needs to step in for the sake of the bird’s health and safety.
"I can’t believe the hens could express any of their normal behaviours under those conditions," she said.
"This isn’t just a marketing tool; this isn’t sustainable for the environment or for the welfare of the hens."
"I want to deal with this issue before it becomes a problem."
Harwood has been farming free range in the Margaret River region for two decades, and keeps stock density of her chickens between 1 500 and 2 500 birds per hectare.
Do you think ‘free to roam’ claims need better regulation? Do you buy roam free eggs?