When standing in front of the egg shelves in a supermarket, the variety of product now available is very daunting.
Some years ago, the space given to free range, barn laid and organic would have been significantly less that we see now. Supermarkets have realised that the public is looking for free range eggs and is prepared to pay for it.
Producers have also realised that there is a growing demand for free range. Unfortunately this can lead to some misleading labelling and advertising.
The problem is, that it is not exactly clear what free range actually means. The public have a different idea to industry. Now there is a call to change the recognised definition in the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals.
The definition relates to the number or density of hens per hectare, and currently that is 1500, with a proviso that any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover.
The Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) has recently released figures showing that about a third of the eggs labelled as free range do not meet the Code’s definition.
As a result the AECL is pushing to increase the density in the definition to 20 000 hens per hectare, which more closely reflects what is actually happening in the industry. To meet the increasing demand for free range eggs, this is the density that is actually in place in many farms.
In the release, the AECL said, “AECL believes there is no economic, scientific or consumer research supporting or justifying the suggested density of 1,500 hens per hectare. This figure was created in 2001 at a time when the free range egg market was in its infancy (8 per cent market share in 2001) compared to the growth it is experiencing today (25 per cent market share in 2011) and therefore does not represent the reality of the market today and into the future.”
Interestingly, the Free Range Farmers Association is calling for the density to be reduced to 750 hens per hectare, and said that “The FRFA believes that it is essential for the free range sector of the egg industry to ensure that the AECL is not successful with its plans for intensive production standards to be adopted in place of the extensive requirements of the current code.”
It will be interesting to see what happens.