Free range eggs are all laid at 5 star chicken resorts,
right? Hens primp on banana lounges sipping long island iced teas
and getting pedicures.
There are no mandatory standards on free range farming in
Australia. There are voluntary standards, allowing bird densities
ranging from 750 birds per hectare to 20,000 birds per hectare. In
the latter case, that's 2 chickens per square metre of open
range, which seems a bit cosy.
The problem is that egg demand is really high. If we force the
farmers to impose lower stocking densities then there will be fewer
free range eggs in the market and we'll all have to buy barn
laid eggs. That's no good for the chickens, or your
Last year the ACCC stepped in to try to sort out the mess. It
prosecuted two free range egg producers, Pirovic and Snowdale, over
their free range claims. The Federal Court has just issued a
consent judgment in the Pirovic case.
Ultimately Pirovic was misleading because it represented that
its hens could and would move about freely on an open range.
Because of the number of hens in the barns and the nature of access
in and out of the barns, Pirovic admitted that it was unlikely that
most birds would roam outside on most days. It agreed to $300k in
fines and promised to implement a compliance program.
The judgment is interesting because the misrepresentations
didn't arise just from Pirovic labelling its eggs as free
range. It was a combination of that and its claims that birds roam
freely on green pastures, and that they could travel in and out of
the barn at free will. This kind of claim is common on free range
products, where producers paint a picture of their hens'
luxurious living conditions.
It's these marketing claims going beyond simple 'free
range' that are likely to get producers in hot water. Clever
adjectives, pictures and descriptions tend to create unrealistic
consumer expectations. So really, the producers only have
themselves to blame.
If you ask us, the answer is transparency. If industry and the
government can't agree on a national standard then at least
require the producers to provide information on bird conditions and
stocking densities so consumers can make informed choices.
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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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