Australian consumers will finally have a clear definition for free-range eggs after state and territory ministers agreed to a New South Wales proposal to develop a national standard for free-range eggs.
The decision was taken by the ministers at a meeting in Cairns with an understanding that NSW would take a leading role in developing a draft National Information Standard for free-range eggs, local news outlet ABC News reported.
New South Wales Fair Trading, a state government department, has been a driving force behind the search for a national standard after recent investigations found that current arrangements are ambiguous and could potentially mislead consumers.
As of now, only the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland have any defined standards for free-range eggs and there is no legally enforceable national standard.
In the ACT, a stocking density of 1,500 birds per hectare is defined as free-range, while Queensland recently raised its definition from 1,500 to 10,000 birds per hectare.
Among retailers, Coles has taken the lead, adopting the maximum stocking density of 10,000 birds per hectare as a standard for its own brand free-range eggs.
Rod Stowe, commissioner at NSW Fair Trading, said that national standard is needed to respond to growing consumer demand in the face of confusing and potentially false and misleading claims in the market.
“This is a good first step on the road to getting better outcomes for consumers when it comes to egg labelling,” he said.
“NSW Fair Trading will now lead further work on this important consumer issue and expects to report back to ministers at their next meeting in early 2015.”
An investigation by NSW Fair Trading last year found farms commonly stocking 20,000 chickens per hectare but still carrying the free range label, whereas the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s current model code of practice recommends 1,500 birds per hectare.