ACCC Takes 'Free Range' Chicken Providers To Court

Choosing to eat free-range chicken often has as much to do with wanting to know those chooks haven't been raised in cramped conditions as with the taste of the end result. So it's unsurprising that the ACCC has taken a stack of couple of providers to court for what it says are "misleading" claims about their chickens.

What's the ACCC's beef? (Sorry about the pun, couldn't resist.) It says that two providers — Steggles and La Ionica — and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation have been suggesting in marketing that chickens get more space than they actually do. Specifically, it says claims that "Steggles meat chickens are raised in barns with substantial space available allowing them to roam freely" and that "La Ionica brand meat chickens [are]able to roam freely in barns with substantial space and in conditions equivalent to a free range system" don't hold up because "the population density of meat chickens raised in barns preclude such movement". In other words: the chooks might not be stuck in cages but they are still pretty crowded. I imagine the chicken providers will argue against that when the case hits the Federal Court.

The ACCC keeps a pretty close eye on this sort of thing, having busted a provider of free-range eggs earlier this year. None of this means that you shouldn't go for free-range food if that's your preference — the point of having a regulator is to ensure companies can't be deceptive about the actual circumstances in which that food is produced. We'll keep an eye on this one and see how it pans out.

ACCC


Comments

    I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the article seemed to suggest that caged farming methods are common in meat chicken farming. I actually worked on a (meat) poultry farm (for neither of the two above brands), and I can tell you first hand that battery/caged methods are NOT used in Australia for meat chicken farming.

    Standard practice is for chickens to be housed in barns from delivery at 1-2 days old until they’re removed for slaughtering between the ages of 6-12 weeks. I won’t go into detail, but long story short – such barns are usually in the vicinity of 2500-1500 square meters in floor space, with an average space of around 50 square centimetres per bird.

    I’m not suggesting the above conditions are ideal, but they are far better than what caged laying hens experience in their lives.

    Reading between the lines, I strongly suspect that Steggles’ and La Ionica’s “free range chicken” is likely to be older poultry, where the average space per bird has been increased as the flock has been thinned. If so, that’s seriously dodgy marketing.

      +1 informative.

      Sorry I meant 2,500-15,000 square metres. A zero makes all the difference!

      a rectangle of 10cm x 5cm still sounds pretty tiny though :S

        ...Wow I really did write that post before I had a coffee didn't I?

        I HAD meant to write "50cm squared".

        Man it'd be handy if you could edit posts on Allure sites.

    I saw an episode of Insight where they discussed this - they showed a non free-range barn and an RSPCA-approved barn.

    The difference in space for the birds between the two kinds of barn was negligible.

    Hrmm.. I buy free-range eggs because of the cruelty factor.. not the taste factor. To be honest, I couldn't care less about the taste.. all I care about is that they don't lock up chickens in a tiny cage. I know that meat farming is a different thing but yer.. the same rule applies to my thinking: it's not about the taste.

    I don't mind paying extra but they need to be actually doing "more" than a non-free range producer is doing to make the extra mean something.

      Me too, people who say the taste is different is purely psychological. Okay, maybe a trained chef could, but not to the general Joe like me. To me, the taste is more in the skills of the person preparing the food rather than in the way an animal is slaughtered.

      That said, I too buy the free range eggs/meat for the cruelty factor, so if I have been misled into paying extra to support a company that makes the process a little more bearable for the chooks, then I fully support the ACCC.

    I've backyard chickens, and the look and taste of their eggs is incomparable to the watery, tasteless eggs from the supermarket.

      Same, it's ridiculous that they get away with feeding chickens that formula crap or solid grain. Our chickens eat grass (ya know, the stuff they've been eating for thousands of years) & food scraps from what we either can't eat or do not want to eat.

      Free-range isn't the only thing they should be marketing IMO. Where's "we feed our chicken wholesome grass so they don't get sick from hormones and condense liquid crap that makes them deformed."

    If you're buying "free-range" chickeen from your butcher, ask them where it comes from. Some butchers are known to sell barn raised chicked as free-range and inflate the prices accordingly.

    The taste factor definitely comes into play with eggs. I've found cage eggs (which I've only eaten at other people's houses) awful, free-range good, my own delicious. But meat, I'm buying free-range only for the animal welfare issues, so I'd be pretty pissed off to find I'd been duped. Luckily I can by from a local producer where I can see the living conditions of the birds first hand.

    We produce our own free range, pasture fed, chemical free chickens from now until April (weather dependant.) Our chickens have fresh pasture twice a day, unlimited access to quality grain and water, and shelter. We cannot produce enough to meet demand - and consumers need to be educated as to what they are buying, and even how chicken was to be consumed. It was never meant to be a quick Monday night meal - but more a savoured and treasured meal. We enjoy our chickens immensely - and can't wait for the sun to shine so we can grow some more!

    Eat Wisely!

    Carolyn

      Agreed. I feel like all meat should be savoured and treasured. The fact that we (as a society) consider meat as a 'given' in all meals is quite sad.

    It is interesting how passionate people are about the "free range" of food.

    I'm wondering if the same people have the same passion for charities? I.e. would they donate the difference to worthwhile charity also? Or if limited funds which would they chose?

    To put it bluntly, starving child in Africa or the quality of life for a chicken before you eat it or it's produce?

    @b8two it's a shame that you felt the need to direct the conversation to starving children in Africa.

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