Why 'Free Range Eggs' Are Usually A Con

Many people buy free range eggs because they believe the hens producing them have a better quality of life. A new investigation by consumer advocate CHOICE reminds us that the term "free range" is ill-defined and frequently misused, so it's no basis for making shopping choices.

Chickens picture from Shutterstock

CHOICE calculates that 213 million eggs sold in Australia last year were labelled as "free range", but didn't meet general consumer expectations for what that would imply. The National Code of Practice suggests no more than 1500 birds a hectare, but many brands have much higher densities -- up to 10,000 birds in some cases. And you often can't find this information anyway: of the 55 "free range" products CHOICE examined, only 17 showed those details on the carton, and 20 didn't make the information available anywhere.

So in many cases you're not getting what you paid for, but you're still paying through the nose. Free range eggs are typically almost twice as expensive as caged eggs.

We've pointed out before that the term "free range" is applied inconsistently, with different rules for different states. In 2013, Queensland changed its rules so that six times as many hens could be crammed into the same space while still describing the eggs produced as "free range".

While inconsistent, those rules are enforced. Consumer regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) regularly busts suppliers for making misleading claims about free range status, and that's happened for ducks as well as chickens.

Many shoppers don't care about free range eggs anyway. Caged eggs are one of the top-selling store brand items in supermarkets, though Woolworths has said it will dump caged eggs by 2018.

Bottom line? If you do care, you'll need to do more investigating than just relying on a simple "free range" label. If the brand you buy doesn't disclose stocking density information, chances are it's a lot higher than you'll be comfortable with.


Comments

    Are the worst free range birds better off than the best barn laid ones though? Are any caged hens better off than any barn ones?

      The RSPCA approve of barn laid eggs. The birds on barn laid are not in cages, the are free to roam and scratch, but are kept within a barn.
      The worst of the free range birds are little better than cage birds. They are cramped together, they have scarcely room to move.

        But even the worst free range birds still get fresh air and can at least stand and turn around, which makes them better than cage birds.

          Better than cage birds but not better than good barn birds.
          The other major issue overcrowded free range birds have is they will attack each other and you will have birds being pecked to death fighting over space. This is obviously only in the worst case situations, but the eggs can still be labelled as free range and twice the price charged,

          I generally buy barn laid as it has been rspca approved and is the most economically feasible to setup to meet the demand. Looking for the rspca label is the most important thing.

          There are caged birds and there's caged birds. I've seen caged birds that have had it better than some so called free range/barn laid. Caged hens with 1^3m per 2 hens? Barn laid where they are in a shed packed so tight with others they can't move until the mass of birds decides too. It really comes down to supplier

    How on earth are caged eggs still so popular? I thought we all knew to buy free range

      1. people buy cheap for many reasons
      2. skepticism/confusion over what free range means

        Yep. I have a tight budget and it's hard to justify paying almost twice as much per egg (as per the table above) when we're still not really sure what it means.

          I will add to that (does not really matter) there is no proven difference in taste or size of eggs
          like how many people claim, after having bought free range and caged on separate occasions.

          I would love to buy free range every chance I get,
          but even the ALDI ones are above $5 per dozen

            Really fresh eggs are noticeably better (typically free range), but once they've had a few days' lag then the differences from caged product diminish.

      Price. Free range eggs are up to double the price of caged eggs, and offer no actual benefit for the consumer. That's why.

      Last edited 10/06/15 9:50 am

        It's an emotional benefit. Like giving to a charity.

      Ack, sorry... didn't mean to offend anyone. I buy very few eggs in the scheme of things.

      Yeah, I have the same thought when seeing people drive a Toyota instead of a Porsche.

    sorry can't afford them. Simple huh.

      Actually, you choose not to pay the difference.

    Given the dubious nature of this "Free Range" system, the blatantly abused "Made in Australia" scams and the sneaky reduction in size/quality whilst keeping the same price scams, you have to ask: why the F##k hasn't there been an investigation into these practices.
    Oh wait, Big money and dubious Government integrity. ftfmyself :)

      How is the reduction in size and keeping the price something that should be investigated? Inflation is real. Increase the price or decrease the volume.

        When they do it without telling you, which happens a lot, I personally find it shady and deceitful.

        I think companies scam? when they reduce the size/amount but retain identical packaging. Doritos is my favourite, used to be 240, then 220 , then 200, now 170? Same packaging and price. Scamming? Perhaps not, misleading and shifty - yes. The government should not be required to investigate though - just vote with your wallet. It is not inflation though - just profit.

          Wow, the government should investigate the RBA. I had no idea inflation had stopped. These guys have been taking us all for a ride!

          Yeah it's called inflation. To address higher costs of production, companies can either keep the price the same and reduce the size, or keep the same size but increase the price. Consumers are more sensitive to increases in price than decreases in size, so it makes sense to just gradually reduce the product size. If I was head of Doritos I'd do the same thing.

        Mars do this with their chocolate product. they reduce the size of the bar INSIDE the same large packet. then they give you '10% free', which puts it back up to where you started.

      The Government can't even implement robust 'made in Australia' labels. Lobby groups just scream 'it will cost the consumers more money' and the Government rolls over.

      But when it comes to data surveillance, the Government is happy to implement a programme which provides no consumer benefit at a high cost. Because you can link it to 'terrorism'.

    Surprise! An entirely unregulated marketing term is only used to separate those who feign concern for animal welfare from their money. Gee, this is a first!

    Have a specifically defined definition of "free range" which is objectively proven to improve or maintain a humane life of chickens and I will pay the premium for the eggs they lay.

    Buy your own chickens. You can then look after them, make sure they eat well and have good living conditions.
    Very cheap Eggs, fresh daily and relaxing to watch out the kitchen window.

      And when you are done with them, some nice chicken nuggets

    Next time, read the article before commenting. (Although, it's not exactly news, it's just Choice running out the same old report, so people should know this anyway.)

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