Consumer Affairs Ministers have announced the definition of a new national free-range egg standard, which will mean eggs labelled as free range must:
+ come from hens that have “meaningful and regular” access to the outdoors
+ disclose on pack the outdoor stocking density – 1,500, 5,000 or 10,000 birds per hectare, with 10,000 birds being the maximum.
What does meaningful and regular access mean?
Most free-range hens are housed as flocks inside large sheds at night to protect them from predators. So, as well as outdoors, the stocking density and conditions inside the shed, the number of openings from the shed onto the outdoor area (the range), and the conditions of the range are key to ensuring hens have “meaningful and regular” access to the outdoors.
Consumer Affairs Ministers are yet to define what meaningful and regular access to the outdoors means. Getting this definition right is critical to ensure this national and legally enforceable free-range egg standard actually means good welfare for hens.
1,500, 5,000 or 10,000 birds – is it too many?
RSPCA Australia’s submission to the free-range egg labelling consultation recommended the outdoor stocking density for free-range hens be 1,500 birds per hectare or up to 2,500 if birds are regularly rotated onto different outdoor range areas. So, the decision to allow a maximum of 10,000 birds per hectare is much higher than our recommendation to ensure good welfare – it’s very disappointing.
Looking on the positive side, better labelling should mean it’s easier for consumers to make a more considered choice in the supermarket. With so many Australians wanting better welfare for hens, let’s hope these standards mean there’s a cage-free egg option for all budgets.
Remember, RSPCA Approved eggs, whether barn laid or free range, are a great choice for hen welfare. We’re proud to work with the farmers at Rohde’s Free Range Eggs, Silver Dale Free Range Eggs and MMM Barn Laid Eggs who are committed to providing conditions on farm that encourage hens to do the things they like to do, like perch, lay their eggs in a nest and scratch in litter.
Lastly, thank you…
…to you! Thousands of compassionate Australian consumers sent submissions to the free-range egg labelling consultation. Even if you didn’t send a submission, you’re still continuing to make your voice heard by choosing cage-free in the supermarket and talking about the issue with your friends and family. Every step towards giving hens a better life is because of you and helps make Australia closer to freeing all hens from cruel battery cages.
We hope you enjoy this video of Rohde’s hens living as a free-range chook should.