It has been a big month for the egg and poultry industry in
Western Australia and across the nation.
A renewed call has been made for state legislation to be
introduced in Western Australia tightening the rules around product
labelling of eggs, by imposing a limit of 1,500 chickens per
hectare for eggs to qualify as "free range." Meanwhile,
Woolworths has announced that it will phase out the sale of all
caged whole eggs sold in-store by 2018. Now there are concerns that
an increase in free range egg production may lead to an increased
risk of avian influenza.
The free range debate is nothing new, but it is certainly
gathering steam. In New South Wales, consumer group Choice
has made a "super complaint" to the NSW Fair Trading
Minister, calling for an investigation into whether free range
claims are genuine.
One argument against the introduction of state legislation is
that there is already a national legislative scheme in operation
that governs misleading and deceptive conduct in product labelling,
under the Australian Consumer Law. Amongst other things, this law
prohibits a person from making, in trade or commerce in connection
with the supply of goods, a false or misleading representation that
goods are of a particular standard or quality or have had a
particular history. Further, conduct in trade or commerce that is
liable to mislead the public as to the nature or characteristics of
goods is also prohibited.
The consumer law watchdog, the Australian Competition and
Consumer Commission, has listed credence claims (claims that
consumers cannot easily verify for themselves) as a new priority
area. The ACCC has recognised that consumers are often prepared to
pay more for products that make credence claims which match their
values. Does this mean that in an appropriate case the ACCC might
step into the free range debate?
In fact, ACCC action is not unprecedented. In September 2011,
the ACCC commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against various
parties in relation to the use of the phrase "free to
roam" and variants of it appearing on packaging, in
advertising and in publications in connection with the supply of
The Federal Court handed down its decision in July this year. It
found that the ordinary and natural meaning of the phrase
"free to roam" when applied to chickens is "the
largely uninhibited ability of the chickens to move around at will
in an aimless manner." Chickens were not "free to
roam" in large barns or sheds in circumstances where, at times
in their growth cycle, the chickens "could not move more than
a metre or so (at most) without having their further movement
obstructed by a barrier of clustered birds."
It would seem that Australian chickens are in the process of
flying the coop. What remains to be seen is how far they will be
permitted to fly, and what this will mean more generally for a
sustainable egg and poultry industry in Australia in the years to
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The Sportscraft refunds and returns policy limitations went beyond consumer's rights under the Australian Consumer Law.
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