Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Coles' standard unlikely to get through

The new Coles' free range standard of 10,000 hens per hectare may follow the same fate as the AECL's pathetic attempt to launch its 20,000 per hectare standard.  This is from today's The Age:

Supermarket Coles’ new standard for freerange eggs looks set to run foul of the national consumer watchdog with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declaring that eggs produced at intensive farms do not deserve the label "free range’’.

While not commenting directly on Coles whose new free-range standard is 10,000 hens per hectare, almost a seven-fold reduction in space from the voluntary guidelines ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the watchdog believed 10,000 hens per hectare was not consistent with consumers’ understanding of free range.

Ms Court said the commission was very concerned "the egg industry was trying to redefine free range to increase their own profitability’’ without regard to consumers’ views. The ACCC is concerned about "the redefinition of what is meant by free range by industry to suit itself, and the fact that the redefinition has the very real potential of misleading consumers,’’ she said.

The egg industry is spending millions of dollars renovating caged-hen facilities and building new state-of-the-art intensive freerange systems to meet Coles’ new standard.

Industry sources expect Woolworths and Aldi will follow Coles’ standard if it is accepted by the community and regulators such as the ACCC leading to a redefinition of free range in Australia.

Coles says its standard which allows free-range farmers to run sheds of 30,000 hens is the only way to deliver affordable eggs to consumers. The supermarket chain says it is drawing a line in the sand after the industry admitted it had been running freerange hens at densities of 50,000.

In response to the ACCC’s comments, Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said: Our stocking density is far better than most of Australia’s free-range egg production, which typically comes from farms running at double or even triple the stocking density that Coles allows.’’

Fairfax Media revealed on Monday that Animals Australia and the RSPCA, previously supportive of Coles’ efforts to improve its egg range had questioned whether eggs from intensive free-range systems could be called free range.

Monash economics professor and former ACCC member Stephen King said without a legally enforceable free-range code, Coles had done nothing wrong. But the ambiguity over free range was a government failure’’.

We certainly agree that the current fiasco is a government failure which demonstrates that 'truth in labelling' legislation must be a high priority. We also hope that the ACCC will launch some prosecutions against egg producers who have been scamming their customers for years.

The end game for Coles is easy. Simply call their high density system 'cage free' as they state in their advertising. Don't try to con consumers that this is 'free range'.

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