It’s just so egg-asperating finding free-range
STUMPED by the labels on egg carton boxes? You're not alone.
An increasing number of consumers are concerned about ethical treatment of animals, and it seems egg producers have responded by adding a number of confusing claims on egg cartons.
Cage free, organic, free range and barn laid conjure up different images, but we generally believe we're paying extra dollars for well-treated hens laying eggs in comfortable conditions.
And we pay vastly different amounts for a dozen eggs. Woolworths online sells its caged ones for $3.66. Its most expensive - organic free range eggs - cost $8.99.
Barn laid eggs look a good compromise at $4.69, but we shouldn't assume the hens are kept in charming wooden barns in rolling countryside. Often they will be in warehouses in such density they are unable to move freely.
The term "free range" is also somewhat ambiguous. There is no legal definition of the term "free range" in Australia, but Queensland is the only state to legislate a maximum of 10,000 hens per hectare to be considered free range.
This number was raised from 1500 in 2012, and was met with criticism from animal welfare groups.
A spokesperson from Woodlands Feed in Beerwah - who produce more than a million eggs per week - said it wasn't easy to put on cartons a clear explanation of the product.
"Egg cartons are very busy these days, but all the information relates to some sort of legal requirement," he said.
"The ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) is very tight on any form of marketing that may mislead the public, and there's not much more we can do with the cartons."
The spokesman agreed the carton labelling system was complicated, but the push by retailers for free-range eggs meant ethical farming was much bigger than 10 years ago.
Vegan Warriors founder Jaylene Musgrave said a major overhaul of animal welfare legislation was needed.
"It is currently so ambiguous, as free range can still mean the hens are locked inside a shed," she said.
Queensland's definition of 'Free Range' eggs:
In the Queensland government's Animal Care and Protection Regulation 2012, it states a person must not keep more than 10,000 laying fowl in a hectare in the outdoor area of a free range system.
This means eggs can be labelled 'Free Range' in Queensland when there are 10,000 hens occupying a hectare of land.
Making sense of the labels:
RSPCA Approved - Meets the RSPCA standards, with the description 'barn laid' 'free range' or 'outdoor' on RSPCA Approved egg cartons indicating if hens had access to outdoors or were confined indoors (barn laid). Debeaking of hens is not prohibited.
Free range - Standards between free range egg farms can vary dramatically as there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia. Queensland is the only state that has legislated a maximum: it used to be 1,500 birds per hectare, but changed to 10,000 per hectare in 2012
Organic - Certified organic eggs - and they must be certified - come from hens kept on farms which meet or exceed standards of the best free range facilities. Simply the word 'organic' on an egg carton can merely mean that hens in barns are fed organic grains.
Barn Laid / Cage Free - Hens not confined in cages so in theory they can move around. However, high stocking densities restrict hens' ability to move freely and exercise.