We’ve frequently made the point that the definition of free-range eggs is somewhat elastic, even before deceitful producers start misusing it. New research by CHOICE reinforces that you’ll definitely pay a premium for ‘free range’, even if the provenance of those eggs is far from clear.
Eggs picture from Shutterstock
First, a reminder: there's no single recognised standard for what 'free range' means, and definitions vary from state to state in Australia. Simply trusting that 'free range' means birds are allowed to roam in uncrowded conditions is naive in the extreme.
CHOICE has lodged a "super-complaint" with NSW Free Trading over the way caged eggs are promoted and marketed in that state. (The "super-complaint" system is a trial designed to speed up responses to major consumer issues.)
"CHOICE research has shown that consumers purchasing free-range eggs expect that the layer hens have access to the outdoors and space to move around with limits on the number of birds on the outdoor range -- but the Australian Egg Corporation (AEC) itself has admitted there is huge variation in the conditions in supposedly free-range operations," CHOICE campaigner Angela McDougall said in a statement announcing the complaint. The definition being pushed by consumer advocates is 1500 birds per hectare, while the AEC wants 20,000 birds per hectare to still count as "free range".
While the definitions might not be clear, the price benefits for the sellers of claiming 'free-range' status are rather more evident. Per 100 grams, this is how much NSW consumers are paying for eggs:
|Cage eggs||43 cents/100g|
|Barn eggs||89 cents/100g|
|Free-range eggs||93 cents/100g|
Pricing rorts aside, how much do consumers actually care? We've noted before that caged eggs account for 80 per cent of house brand sales in supermarkets. CHOICE suggests 40 per cent of sales of eggs in Australia are free-range.