Monday, October 20, 2014

Egg stamping should help to boost consumer confidence

Stamping eggs with a farm identification code is part of a national food safety scheme which is being implemented differently in each State. In Victoria, the State Government delayed the compulsory introduction of egg stamping until November 25 this year.

The Government says it will exempt producers with less than 50 hens from the new requirements. Some producers claim that the whole concept is a farce and will do nothing to improve food safety or traceability.

Egg stamping will help to solve the egg substitution rort which has been rife for years but probably first came to general notice in Victoria during 2007 with a high profile case when a company was fined for labelling eggs as organic when they were from conventional farms.

In 2012, a NSW barn egg farm was fined for packaging its eggs as free range and a South Australian egg seller was fined for putting cage eggs in free range cartons.

Also in 2012 an inspection processes in Victoria revealed that a farm was packing and selling eggs from dubious sources interstate and labelling them as free range eggs produced on that Victorian farm.

If all eggs are stamped with a unique number which shows the farm on which they were laid, egg substitution will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Consumers may still have to contend with labels which can be misleading, with pictures of hens frolicking on green pasture when the reality is far different. But a recent Federal Court decision which resulted in a $300,000 fine for a NSW egg farm which falsely labelled its eggs as free range, should give consumers a little more certainty when they buy eggs.

Accreditation means different things to different people. Consumers rightly expect it to convey a message of credibility about a particular product, but to many businesses it's simply a marketing tool designed to allow them to make claims which increase their profits.

A logo can be a valuable asset if it is trusted by consumers. But it's value is destroyed if it is shown to be meaningless. Any accreditation program is only as good as the willingness of the accreditation body to maintain its standards and defend its logo.

Unfortunately there is no free range certification standard in Australia which is worth the paper it's written on.

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