While the contentious debate over a national standard for “free-range” eggs was resolved two months ago, settling on 10,000 birds per hectare, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has continued its campaign against egg producers it says have misled consumers.
The latest company to fall foul of the consumer watchdog is Snowdale Holdings Pty Ltd in Western Australia, which the Federal Court found this week had broken Australian Consumer Law.
The ACCC alleged Snowdale, one of the state’s largest egg producers, made false claims about “free range” chickens under the brands Eggs by Ellah, Swan Valley Free Range and Wanneroo Free Range.
Central to the ACCC’s case is the issue of how easy it is for the chickens to access the outdoors.
The Court found that between April 2011 and December 2013, most of the hens from the Snowdale sheds did not move around on an open range because the farming conditions significantly inhibited them from doing so.
These conditions included the number of pop holes, the number of birds per metre of pop hole, flock size inside the shed and shed size.
The judgment by Justice Siopis said:
“There is no suggestion in the images and get up used on any of the Snowdale egg carton labels that the laying hens are, in fact, housed in steel industrial style sheds about 100m long and that the hens in those sheds would have to compete with another 12,000 or 17,000 other hens, as the case may be, before the hens could even exit the shed to enter an open range.”
While a hearing for a penalty has yet to be set, last month two companies, Derodi Pty Ltd and Holland Farms Pty Ltd, trading together as Free Range Egg Farms, were fined $300,000 in a similar action over false or misleading “free range” claims.
The companies sell eggs under the Ecoeggs, Port Stephens and Field Fresh brands.
Last year RL Adams Pty Ltd, trading as Darling Downs Fresh Eggs, copped a $250,000 fine over similar claims while one of the largest family-owned egg producers in NSW, Pirovic, was fined $300,000 for misleading “free range” claims in 2014.
In a bid to help consumers find out which eggs are from free range chickens, consumer lobby group Choice has launched a free augmented reality app so shoppers can check the bona fides of any claims.
The CluckAR app scans an egg carton, and then assesses how well the eggs meet free-range claims. Good eggs are green-lit, while farms with a 10,000 birds per hectare stocking density are given a red light along with less than favourable comments.
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