Politicians agree to a national standard for free-range eggs, again, but it may take two years

Photo: Getty/Joern Pollex

A year after Australia’s consumer affairs ministers met in Cairns and agreed to create a national standard for free-range eggs, they’ve met again, this time in Melbourne, and agreed, again, it was announced today, but the process may still take another year to implement.

In an echo of last year’s announcement, NSW minister for better regulation Victor Dominello said today that the ministers have agreed to adopt a NSW government recommendation to develop a national standard on egg labelling.

“This is a significant win for consumers and producers and I thank my counterparts for demonstrating leadership on what has been a difficult issue,” he said. “Growing uncertainty about the definition of free-range has meant many consumers have lost confidence in the existing regulation of egg labelling.”

But the announcement was light on detail and Business Insider understands that it may take another year before any enforceable standard is in place.

Consumer lobby group Choice was pushing on the issue, claiming this week that up to 213 million “free-range” eggs sold in Australia did not meet the CSIRO-designed guidelines of 1500 birds per hectare, despite the fact they can sell for around double the price of caged eggs.

Last June, when the ministerial meeting announced the push to a national standard, former Queensland attorney-general Jarrod Bleijie, said they would take a cautious approach.

“The jurisdictions weren’t keen to rush into anything at the moment, because there are some prosecutions on foot at the moment through the ACCC,” he said.

In 2013, the Queensland government changed the definition from a stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare to 10,000. That standard is also used by Coles and Woolworths.

Last September, one of the largest family-owned egg producers in NSW, Pirovic, was fined $300,000 for misleading conduct over “free-range” labelling, following legal action by the ACCC.

Today, Minister Dominello said Australians eat around 220 eggs annually, “so when it comes to buying this staple product we want consumers to have confidence they are getting what they pay for. This new standard will also provide greater clarity for egg producers.”

The announcement was also welcomed by the Egg Farmers of Australia.

While NSW Fair Trading was tasked with drawing up the standard a year ago, the matter is now expected to take at least another six months before there’s something on the table, with further consultations meaning that a final decision is unlikely before the ministers meet again in June 2016.

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