The True Meaning of 'Free Range Eggs'

There are many egg farms that claim to be 'free range', but advertising can be misleading.

In February 2018, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released new guidelines on free range egg standards to help combat the misuse of the term 'free range', and provide consumers with more confidence when purchasing free range eggs.

Under the new Standard coming into effect on the 26th April, egg producers cannot use the words ‘free range’ on their packaging unless their chooks:

  • Had meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range during the daylight hours of the laying cycle
  • Were able to roam and forage on the outdoor range; and
  • Were subject to a stocking density of 10,000 hens or less per hectare, and that outdoor stocking density is prominently displayed on the packaging or signage.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said, “If an egg producer’s hens are using the outdoor range on a regular basis and they satisfy the stocking density requirements, then the producer can call their eggs free range.”

“If egg producers use images, pictures, or words, other than free range, that imply their eggs are free range when they are not, this would likely raise concerns under the Australian Consumer Law,” Mr Sims said.

However, what many consumers don't understand when reading the word 'free range' legitimately added to egg cartons, is that the guidelines are rather broad and may not necessarily represent the most premium of ethical egg standards. 

Firstly let's look at stocking density guidelines that define 'free range eggs.'

Essentially stocking rates are not audited. Even though an egg carton may list a particular ratio of chickens per hectare, no one actually regulates it. 

For example, The Good Life Farm stocks only 300 chickens per hectare, whereas a farm with 12,000 hens per hectare (2,000 over the legal ratio), may promote healthy, free range eggs and get away with it, because stocking rates are not audited.

 
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Secondly, the guideline 'being able to roam and forage on the outdoor range' has a few holes in it.

Large 'free range' egg farms run barns or sheds that are temperature controlled (ie. operate a consistent temperature all year round), and have feed, water and nest box systems inside the sheds so the chickens have to head inside for all the good stuff.

A lot of the time they will have a 'token door' open so the chickens can access an outdoor area fenced around the shed. This may be just bare earth and a moonscape after years of use, with nothing of interest to chickens. Even though these eggs can be officially classed as free range, when you drive past the farm you may not see a chicken. 

Our chooks on the other hand, have open access to a range that has fresh grass, trees to sit under and jump in, and natural dust baths. The girls are not locked in at night and leave the sheds when the sun comes up. They literally do as they please outside all day, with our trained Poultry Guardian Dog, Luca, keeping watch round the clock.

 
 

We have both indoor and outdoor feed and watering systems, so 'inside' is not seen to have all 'the good stuff'. Our set up is designed to encourage the chooks to be outside as much as possible. The chickens really roam; they greet your car at the gate and even head into the far back paddocks with the cows.  

When we go into our mobile chook sheds during the day, other than those hens that are laying, only a handful of chooks will be inside, generally snoozing after getting their fill of bugs since first light. 

If it's important to you that eggs come from chickens that have led a truly good life, it may be time to look beyond the words 'free range' and ask some other questions.

At the end of the day, the only way you can have 100% peace of mind that your eggs are free range and ethically raised is to ask the farm for proof that the chickens are really, truly free range; visit the farm, go to open days and know your farmer.

You can contact us at any time to arrange a visit to our farm, where we will proudly show you our set up. We are 100% transparent about how we raise our chooks and more than happy to answer any questions you have. 

References: Click here for the ACCC's press release on the release of their new guidleines. A copy of the ACCC’s guidance is available at: Free range chicken egg claims.