SA cracks ‘free range’ definition

South Australia has led the way in setting an industry code for free range eggs.

South Australian Minister for Business Services and Consumers, John Rau, announced a new industry code over the weekend, aimed at settling the debate over the definition of free range eggs. 

The South Australian government defined free range eggs as coming from hens stocked at 1,500 birds per hectare.

Humane Choice, the certification scheme launched by Humane Society International (HSI) to improve the welfare standards of farm animals across Australia, welcomes the announcement, saying it will provide South Australian consumers with much-needed clarification.

"Free range egg buyers have been at the mercy of large egg corporations seeking to cash in on demand for free range eggs aided by the supermarkets that seem to have taken on the role of industry regulator," HSI said.

The proposal will encourage supermarkets to make a broader selection of eggs available to consumers.

"I believe this industry code will actually bring clarity to the free range confusion and those producers that are meeting consumer expectation will stand out from the crowd.  Consumers will then be able to decide if they are willing to pay a little more for what they want, or accept eggs grown under a more intensive operation.  The choice will be made a lot clearer," said Lee McCosker, chief operating officer at Humane Choice.

But it may be a while before shoppers see these new, more accurately labelled eggs, she told the ABC.

"Initially they may not find it because larger supermarkets generally stock the more intensive-style eggs from the larger producers in the industry," she said.

While the widely accepted standard for free range is 1,500 birds per hectare, some egg producers have a  stocking density of 20,000 per hectare.

Just last month HSI delivered 40,000 individual postcards to prime minister Julia Gillard’s door in protest of the current labelling for free range eggs and to build support for a national standard.

HSI said increasing levels of consumer concern have not been taken seriously by industry or the state government as they both remain indifferent toward the issue.


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