Free-Range deception

Lexi Gugger

Its been 5 years that farmers have been waiting to hear the news of the new national standard that came out 2016 announcing outdoor stocking density for Free-Range egg at 10,000 hens or less per ha.

The law also specifies that the stocking density must be displayed clearly on the packaging. State and federal consumer affairs ministers introduceda legally enforceablenationalinformation standardfor Free-Range egg production in March 2016, which in order to label eggs ad Free-Range the hens should hens have:

  • meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range and;
  • an outdoor stocking density of no more than10,000 birds per hectare.(Thats 1 hen per square metre).

The newly introduced law is a good start for the industry to start making positive changes and but what doesnt quite sit right with us is that in thisstandard is the maximum outdoor stocking density of 10,000 birds per hectare. 10,000 is a massive jump from other stocking density levels specified by accreditation bodies in Australia and overseas which range generally from750 2,500 birds per hectare.

Lets break down how big a hectare is. One hectarecontains about2.47 acres. Its hard to imagine the size of a hectare, so to put it in proportion, an international rugby field is roughly one hectare in size.

Rugby Pitch 1ha

10,000 chickens per hectare [is] four chooks on the back of a ute, or four chooks on a double bed, or one per square metre, said John Dunn of Egg Farmers of Australia.

Consumer group, Choice, have reported feeling disappointed with the new standards.

The governments decision to release the standard this week is extremely disappointing, Tom Godfrey of Choice said to ABC. I think most consumers would accept that stocking densities of up to 10,000 hens per hectare is a long way from what they think is free range. Theres no guarantee birds have to go outside, for most people that just departs reality from what people think free-range actually is.

What is missing from this equation is animal welfare. High stocking densities cause extra stress for the hens which means they live a life in a constant state of fear and agitation. This issue doesnt just affect the hens but the wider environment.According to theFree Range Farmers Association, attest that 10,000 hens per hectare is not sustainable nor responsible farming. They explain the negative effects that high stocking densities can have on the environment. High levels of ammonia found in hen manure, can destroy and soil health andpoison waterways caused by the ammonia leaching from the soil to water sources.

We at Sunshine Coast Organic Meats, choose to boycott the big industrial farms and support the smaller family-run farms that are doing the best by the land and most importantly the chickens and their welfare. It is sustainability and morally the right thing to do.

The eggs that we stock, and their stocking densities are as below:

Organic Fraser Coast Free Range Eggs 1500 chickens perha (6 times less than conventional standards).

Kenilworth Eggs 900chickens per ha (11 times less than conventional standards).

Eumundi Egg and Feather (Bio-dynamic) 330 chickens per ha (30 times less than conventional standards!).

The difference in stocking numbers is clearly evident and we are proud to source eggs from farms we have personally visited to ensure what you, as customers are paying for is what you get. Quality, true Free-Range and high animal welfare eggs.

The products you chose to buy, support practices used by the farmers and producers. Do you want to support legalised cruelty where so-called Free-Range chickens are stocked in massive numbers? Or would you rather support farmers that stock less than 1500 even as low as 300 chickens per hectare? The choice is yours. You might feel like you are just one chook in the flock but when every one of us does our little bit, it adds up.

Check out our resources here:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-04-27/free-range-labelling-national-standards-in-place/8476544
https://sustainabletable.org.au/all-things-ethical-eating/chicken-the-egg/
http://kb.rspca.org.au/what-are-animal-welfare-friendly-food-products_223.html