The Ambiguity Of “Free Range” Farming

Words by: Meg Lack

Seeing “Free Range” on a carton of eggs is one food label that makes us feel that little bit better about eating animals and their produce. But how much do we know about what free range actually defines, and are we even sure that free range eggs are always ‘free-range’? Today most people I know will willingly pay an extra few bucks in the supermarket for free range eggs in order to conduct a more ‘ethical’ purchase, and most cafes and restaurants use free range eggs on their menu.

If you google the term free range, its definition is as follows:
“livestock especially poultry kept in natural conditions, with freedom of movement and eggs produced by free-range poultry.”

After reading this, you would probably imagine chickens wandering around in luscious green fields having a good old time and being all free right? (As would the 64% of Australians who are purchasing free-range). But according to PETA many farmers who produce free range eggs aren’t really producing free range at all and still cram animals into small cages in order to increase profits. Pretty upsetting for those who splash out a few extra bucks for free range label when it’s basically the same as cage eggs. Many farmers who call themselves free range producers may simply allow their animals to have a quick run around but then put them back in the crowded cages. Which doesn’t sound very free ranging to me.

The growing confusion around whether or not your eggs are free range or not is hopefully set to be straightened as the government is set to produce a revised model code for farmers. At the moment The model code of Practice says there should be a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare

A report carried out by CHOICE, a not for profit organisation which researches on behalf of Australia consumers, managed to find the number of stock per hectare of some  free range egg brands. And surprise surprise, they discovered that some brands that label themselves ‘free-range’ do not actually meet the code of practice, yet the Australian Egg Corporation have admitted to still branding these eggs free range. Ofcourse there were many company’s that were following the code and doing the right thing which is good to hear. You can find the report of their website here for those who would like to know which egg brands are legit free-range.

By the end of the year the minister for consumer affairs hopes to propose a plan that will help clearly outline on products and to consumers whether or not the product is free-range. And it looks like they’ll be going towards creating a national mandatory standard, so that all us free range loving  folks are most certainly purchasing the real deal and not the half-arsed eggs  some company’s sell.

Happy egg buying!