An increasing number of Australians are moving away from cage eggs to free range production systems. Between 2009 and 2017, cage eggs fell from 70 per cent market share to 49 per cent, while free range eggs increased from 5 to 40 per cent.
And the industry is responding. Sunny Queen, one of Australia’s biggest egg producers, note that consumer attitudes are changing and have invested tens of millions of dollars building a free range facility.
But what does free range actually mean? And does the ideal square with the reality.
In a 2014 survey, CHOICE found that for a majority of Australians, free range means three things: space to roam, access to the outdoors, and cage free.
In April 2018, the Australian Consumer Law (Free Range Egg Labelling) Information Standard 2017 came into force.
According to the ACCC, “Egg producers cannot use the words ‘free range’ on their egg cartons unless the eggs were laid by hens that:
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
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.”
However, there are a few problems.
10,000 birds per hectare far exceeds the standards set forth by the Primary Industries Ministerial Council model code of practice, published by the CSIRO. The model code of practice recommends just 1,500 birds per hectare, a figure backed by animal welfare organisations and even some eggs producers, who say 10,000 hens per hectare is far too high.
Another issue is that hens from all production systems, free range, barn laid, and cage, will be killed as soon as they stop producing enough eggs. Often at only 18 months of age, less than a quarter of their natural life span.
Not to mention the male chicks who, since they cannot lay eggs or be used for meat, are dropped into grinders or gassed at just one day old.
So what can you do?
Consider adopting a flock from ‘Til The Cows Come Home. Click here for your adoption application: https://tilthecowscomehome.org/adopt-a-chicken/ Local egg farmers surrender the hens reared on their farms to us because they want them to have a good life beyond the one they were bred into.
Try egg substitutes. Aquafaba, or bean juice, might sound a little strange but it is the perfect substitute and can be used to make everything from meringue and mouse to nougat and fudge.
-By Genevieve Mater
Hear from our Hen adoption families.