Australia will finally have a national standard for free-range eggs after Commonwealth, State and Territory consumer affairs ministers agreed to introduce one at a meeting in Cairns last week.
The move comes following a push by NSW Fair Trading to come to grips with the issue as consumer demand grows rapidly and the risks of confusing and potentially false and misleading claims increase.
There is no national or legally enforceable definition of free-range and NSW Fair Trading was concerned that cross-border issues could result from that lack of a standard.
While the CSIRO-designed Model Code specifies a maximum of 1500 fowl per hectare for free-range eggs, the ACT is the only one to adopt that level. Queensland is the only state with a standard, increasing it from 1500 to 10,000-per hectare last year. Coles also set 10,000 ha as the maximum stocking density for its free-range eggs, while the voluntary industry code allows up to 20,000 ha. Meanwhile, multiple industry accreditation schemes have led to a range of interpretations of free-range.
NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rod Stowe welcomed the move for a national standard saying his organisation will lead the work on the issue, reporting back to the ministers in early 2015.
A draft standard could include a definition of free-range and minimum labelling requirements for product packaging and give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) the teeth to tackle in issue of free-range claims on egg products.
“There is too much confusion about the difference between the terms free range, barn laid, aviary and cage eggs and what they actually mean,” Commissioner Stowe said, adding that consumers were increasingly made values-based decisions on food purchases.
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