Thursday, November 02, 2006

The (LEGAL) Definition of Free Range Egg Production

In most Australian States there is no legal definition governing the production of 'free range' eggs - which leaves consumers in the dark about what they are buying unless the farm is accredited by the Free Range Farmers Association.
But in NSW, consumers are protected by a definition which makes it illegal for eggs to be sold as free range if they are from hens who have been beak trimmed, the stocking density is greater than 1500 birds per hectare, or if the area over which the hens are allowed to range is not mainly covered by palatable vegetation.
Here is the definition as posted on the website of the NSW Department of Primary Industries as Agnote DAP 02 :
'The standards prohibit practices such as beak trimming and induced moulting. These changes are designed to ensure that free-range egg production is clearly differentiated from intensive systems of egg production and to maintain the perceptions consumers have of the husbandry of free-range flocks. The new standards have the support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare because free-range flocks are managed so that the practices of beak trimming and induced moulting are not required.
A ‘free-range’, ‘open range’ or ‘range’ egg is one produced according to these standards and in compliance with the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals No. 83 — Domestic Poultry (4th edition) endorsed by the Australian Agricultural Council.
Hens have permanent access to a weatherproof house with a deep litter or slatted floor, and equipped with feeders, drinkers, nest boxes and perches.
The stocking rate of the house does not exceed 5 birds per square metre of deep-litter floor space or 10 birds per square metre of slatted floor space.
Housing, space allowance, equipment, lighting, ventilation, temperature, food, water, health and management practices are within the limits of the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals No. 83 — Domestic Poultry (4th edition).
Hens have access to open-air runs during daylight hours.
Hens must be protected from predators at all times.
The ground to which hens have access is mainly covered with palatable vegetation and has some shade provided.
It is essential to have vegetation cover growing on the land where the hens are permitted to range.
The stocking rate of the runs does not exceed 1.5 birds per 10 square metres, that is, 1500 hens per hectare (600 hens per acre).
Beak-trimmed stock (hens and pullets) must not be used.
Induced moulting must not be practised.
The standards have been accepted as the Code that describes free-range eggs under the provisions of the Food Act 2003 and the Fair Trading Act 1987. This means that a person can be prosecuted for selling eggs as free-range eggs which were not produced under these guidelines.'

This requirement, if introduced nationally (and enforced) would give consumers confidence in purchasing eggs labelled as 'free range'.

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