What makes a free range egg free? AEC definition on the way

 The Australian chicken industry and the issue of free range is back in the news, this time as the Australian Egg Corporation moves to establish a legally enforceable term for the term when it comes to eggs.

A report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said the AEC,which represents the majority of egg farmers, has sent new draft standards toproducers which would allow a free range egg farm to run as many as 20,000 chickensper hectare.

In a statement issued today the AEC confirmed it was indiscussions with egg producers about new egg standards for Australia that aimed to rectify thecurrent position where there is no cap on free range stocking densities.

The AEC said it was working to improve the current situation byestablishing a cap on free range stocking densities.

It’s proposed stocking densities of up to two birds per metre square, or 20,000 per hectare, an area which it says provides hens with "the ability to display all their natural behaviours".

“They can roam, scratch in the dirt and peck at grass, while havingaccess to food, water, and shelter in the henhouse,” it said in the statement.

“AEC is working to improve the current situation by establishing acap on free range stocking densities. This is unacceptable. We believe thesechanges would be a substantial improvement on the current situation.

“We seek this to be legislated and enforced by government.

“The egg industry needs to feed a growing population with anaffordable source of quality protein. This is our industry’s socialresponsibility. We believe this definition will provide clarity, consistencyand transparency.”

It said the new egg standard must consider “consumer expectations,robust science and commercial reality as it relates to bird health and welfare,food safety and environmental stewardship”.

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