Free range egg farming business fights CHOICE campaign

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Manning Valley Egg Farm is fighting back at consumer advocacy group CHOICE for their campaign saying their farms are “worse than a backpackers”.

In a statement, owner Peter Matuszny, states that CHOICE “makes several inaccurate statements about Manning Valley’s free range practices and stocking densities.”

“Choice’s article says that Manning Valley has a stocking density of 10,000 birds per hectare. In reality, most of our farms carry around 2500 to 6000 birds per hectare,” said Matuszny.

The campaign ‘Give A Cluck About Free Range Eggs’ is highlighting the issue of farm stocking densities and the absence of a national standard for free range eggs. CHOICE has launched an app, CluckAR, that aims to help consumers navigate the free-range egg market.

The Australian egg farming community has had a tumultuous time over the past few months as tension has mounted over free range eggs.

Free range fines

Last month, an egg business was fined $300,000 last month by the Federal Court for making false claims and misleading consumers over their free range eggs.

Derodi and Holland Farms trade together as Free Range Egg Farms and their brands Ecoeggs, Port Stephens and Field Fresh are sold nation-wide.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provided evidence to the court showing that for three years the company had mislead consumers. In one case eggs came from a farm where hens were shut inside until they were 14 months old although they’d already been laying eggs for 10 months. They also had kept hens inside for 240 consecutive days, blaming the action on bad weather and nearby construction work.

Free Range Egg Farms made misleading claims on their packaging and marketing material such as “Taste freedom”, “Ecoeggs are produced by hens thriving on lush improved pastures” and “Resident hens spend the day roaming pastures in search of seeds”.

The loss for consumers and competitors in significant, said Justice Edelman, as the premium for free range eggs in substantial, typically 50 cents over ‘barn laid’ or ‘cage free’.

Changes to free range legislation

The case comes on the back of last month’s call for a national standard for ‘free range’ by state and federal consumer affairs ministers to be implemented within a year. The guidelines will state that hens must have “regular and meaningful access to the outdoors” with a maximum stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE says the case shows consumers can’t trust free-range egg labels in supermarkets and warns that the national guidelines may actually make it harder for the ACCC to bring successful legal against wrongful farms.

“[They] had an opportunity to clean up this market. Instead they bowed to the requests of big industrial egg producers and locked in an information standard that will continue to rip off consumers, as ‘free-range’ hens can still be kept in cramped conditions with no guarantee they go outside,” CHOICE Campaigns Manager Erin Turner said.

“The decision that ministers made last month will legislate misleading behaviour. It means that the ACCC may find it much harder to bring successful legal action against dodgy free range egg claims.”

Chloe Potvin
Chloe Potvin is a contributing small business writer for Kochie's Business Builders.