We’ve all been there. Staring at rows of cartons all claiming to be free range eggs and not knowing which ones to believe.
There’s no nationally agreed stocking rate or legislation stopping an egg or chicken meat farmer from falsely claiming to be free range (unless they’re dobbed into the ACCC for misleading labelling).
At the moment any bird outside of a cage is being called free range, even if they’re crowded and can’t go outdoors.
True free range eggs
Our take on truly free range is a farm that allows birds to go outside freely during daylight hours and where there are no more than 1500 birds per hectare for layers or 2500 for meat birds.
The egg industry wants a ridiculous 20,000 per hectare classed as free range eggs. Such crowding affects birds’ behaviour and isn’t a sustainable stocking rate for pasture if the birds are not moved from paddock to paddock.
We want to know that a third party has visited the farm and verified that the birds are legitimately free range.
It’s not hard to find proof. If the carton wears one of the logos below, you know they’re really free range eggs. Be super aware of symbols designed to look like accreditation logos.
Sustainable Shopper also loves to buy direct from small farms at markets or roadsides. You can get a pretty good sense of whether they’re legitimate or not by asking some questions.
Free Range Farmers Association
Additional benefits: Prohibits de-beaking and beak trimming. Prohibits other form of egg production on the same farm (ie a farmer can’t use this logo if they also have caged birds on the property). Unfortunately only available in Victoria.
Additional benefits: Strict environmental requirements. Animals are fed certified organic supplementary feed, antibiotics and routine vaccinations prohibited, synthetic egg yolk colouring prohibited. Has strict requirements around transport and slaughter. Downside: Organic standards allow beak trimming.
Additional benefits: Lobbies for better treatment of all farmed animals. Prohibits beak trimming. Prohibits other form of egg production or intensive farming of other animals on the same property. Has strict conditions around transport and slaughter.
Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia, FREPA
Additional benefits: Prohibits de-beaking and beak trimming. Routine antibiotics and synthetic yolk colouring prohibited.
Hmm maybe not
At a stretch if none of the above are available (and you really need eggs) you could chose a product with the RSPCA Approved Farming logo; however the RSPCA’s standards aren’t particularly exciting and really just prescribe bare minimum animal welfare standards for all farming.
The standard simply means the birds aren’t in cages.
Its free range includes birds kept in barns. This means they can still be really crowded and don’t allow birds to have access to natural sunlight, pick at grass or scratch for insects.
This stipulation from the RSPCA’s website doesn’t really cut it for us: “The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme requires that eggs marketed as RSPCA ‘free range’ or ‘barn laid’ come from layer hens that have more space than those raised in conventional systems.” Perhaps they’ve developed the certification so that it’s attainable by the majority of commercial egg farms rather than what’s best.
Consider walking out of a supermarket empty handed rather than paying a farmer for poor animal welfare standards.
Accreditation isn’t expensive and if a farmer is large enough to supply supermarkets they can pay for third party checks.