Making Sense of Egg Labelling Standards

Eggs RSPCA Approved / 1st Apr 2016

Consumer Affairs Ministers have announced the definition of a new national free-range egg standard, which will mean eggs labelled as free range must:
+ come from hens that have “meaningful and regular” access to the outdoors
+ disclose on pack the outdoor stocking density – 1,500, 5,000 or 10,000 birds per hectare, with 10,000 birds being the maximum.

What does meaningful and regular access mean?
Most free-range hens are housed as flocks inside large sheds at night to protect them from predators. So, as well as outdoors, the stocking density and conditions inside the shed, the number of openings from the shed onto the outdoor area (the range), and the conditions of the range are key to ensuring hens have “meaningful and regular” access to the outdoors.

Consumer Affairs Ministers are yet to define what meaningful and regular access to the outdoors means. Getting this definition right is critical to ensure this national and legally enforceable free-range egg standard actually means good welfare for hens.

1,500, 5,000 or 10,000 birds – is it too many?
RSPCA Australia’s submission to the free-range egg labelling consultation recommended the outdoor stocking density for free-range hens be 1,500 birds per hectare or up to 2,500 if birds are regularly rotated onto different outdoor range areas. So, the decision to allow a maximum of 10,000 birds per hectare is much higher than our recommendation to ensure good welfare – it’s very disappointing.

Looking on the positive side, better labelling should mean it’s easier for consumers to make a more considered choice in the supermarket. With so many Australians wanting better welfare for hens, let’s hope these standards mean there’s a cage-free egg option for all budgets.

Remember, RSPCA Approved eggs, whether barn laid or free range, are a great choice for hen welfare. We’re proud to work with the farmers at Rohde’s Free Range Eggs, Silver Dale Free Range Eggs and MMM Barn Laid Eggs who are committed to providing conditions on farm that encourage hens to do the things they like to do, like perch, lay their eggs in a nest and scratch in litter.

Lastly, thank you…
…to you! Thousands of compassionate Australian consumers sent submissions to the free-range egg labelling consultation. Even if you didn’t send a submission, you’re still continuing to make your voice heard by choosing cage-free in the supermarket and talking about the issue with your friends and family. Every step towards giving hens a better life is because of you and helps make Australia closer to freeing all hens from cruel battery cages.

We hope you enjoy this video of Rohde’s hens living as a free-range chook should.

RSPCA Approved Rohde's Free Range Eggs


    • Jess @ RSPCA says:

      Thanks for your comment Jacki – Rohde’s eggs are available at the Sydney Produce Market at Flemington but if you’re not able to get them from there remember to ask your local store to stock RSPCA Approved and hopefully we can help get them on shelves close to you.

  1. Liz Charpleix says:

    I”m impressed. The Rohdes obviously care and do a good job. But I didn’t see anywhere in the video what they do with their male chickens.
    We’re making good progress with getting all hens to be free-range. Next big issue has to be the welfare of the unwanted males..

    • Jess @ RSPCA says:

      Thanks for your great comment Liz! Ideally, the egg industry should invest into alternatives that allow the sex of the chick to be determined in the early egg incubation phase. Sadly though for the time being, male chicks in the egg industry are considered a by-product – they are unable to lay eggs and unsuitable for chicken meat production. For this reason they’re killed shortly after birth (1 day old), often by quick maceration which ensures the chick is killed within a second.

  2. Desmond Sibraa says:

    The NSW Food Advisory Committee at its meeting on 27 May 1991, twenty years ago, unanimously recommended a standard for free range eggs which was supported by the then Minister for Health and by the Department. The Minister sent it to the National Food Authority (now FSANZ) where it has remained presumably gathering dust. The proposed standard was in similar terms to those in my letter to the National Food Authority in 1995.

    Following the inactivity by the National Food Authority on the referred proposal I subsequently made an application to the National Food Authority (now FSANZ) on behalf of the Free Range Egg Producers to make a standard for free range eggs in similar terms to the Food Advisory Committee’s recommendation :

    Date 20 November 1995
    The Acting Chairperson
    National Food Authority
    PO Box 7816
    Canberra Mail Centre
    ACT 2601

    Dear Sir

    I have been requested by the Free Range Egg Producers Association to
    request the Authority to make a standard for free-range eggs. The standard
    is essential to prevent deception and fraud on consumers by unscrupulous
    persons in the industry who are passing off eggs derived from battery or
    barn kept hens as free-range eggs. I have enclosed some recent
    publications, from the Independent Monthly and Foodwatch, concerning
    the sale of free-range eggs and the need for a legal standard.

    It is suggested that the most appropriate location is to be included in
    Standard E1. A new definition would be included in Clause (1) (a) for free
    range eggs as follows;

    (vi) “free range-eggs” or “open- range eggs” or “range eggs” are the eggs derived from hens kept in accordance with the requirements of this standard.

    The remainder of the standard could be inserted in any convenient location
    in the existing standard or be included as a new standard E2. The
    requirements should be as follows:

    1. Free range or open range eggs are eggs produced in accordance with
    this standard.

    2. (a) Hens must have permanent access to a weatherproof house with a
    deep litter or slatted floor and equipped with feeders, drinkers, nest
    boxes and perches..

    (b) The stocking rate of the house must not exceed 5 birds per square
    metre of deep litter floor space or 10 birds per square mere of
    slatted floor space.

    (c) Housing, space allowance, equipment, lighting, ventilation, temprature,
    food, water, health and management practices must be within the limits
    of the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals No.2 – The
    Domestic Fowl, endorsed by the Australian Agricultural Council and
    Issued by the Australian Bureau of Animal Health, Department of
    Primary Industry, Canberra, 1983.

    (d) Hens must have access to outside pasture during daylight hours.

    (e) The outside pasture to which hens have access must be provided with \ palatable vegetation and adequate shade.

    (f) Hens must be protected from predators at all times.

    (g) The stocking rate of the outside pasture to which the hens have access,
    must not exceed 1 bird per 10 square metres, that is 1000 hens per hectare or 400 hens per acre. Hectare.

    (h) Beak trimmed hens and pullets eggs must not be used.

    (i) Induced moulting must not be practiced on hens used to produce free
    range eggs.

    3. There must be written on or attached to every package of free range eggs
    in standard type of not less than 3mm the name and address of the premises
    on which the free range eggs were produced.

    Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any problems or questions concerning these proposals.
    Yours faithfully


    A paper war ensued and the Authority made impossible demands on the Association to provide quantitative data that their allegations of false claims were happening on an Australia wide basis. The Association was not in a financial position to undertake such a project and formed a not very flattering opinion of the Authority and decided that it was impossible for their Association to meet these inane demands.

    The proposal was a good one supported by experts in the keeping of free range poultry. It is a scathing indictment on the Authority who believed that they know more than experts in the field. If they had acted on these recommendations the consumers would have been saved thousands of dollars in the deception and fraud of the shonky operators.

    It is indeed shameful that no State or Territory enforcement authority has taken action on this clear deception of consumers. The ACT Government tried to make the ACT a cage hen free state and offered a large cash payment to the only caged hen facility in the ACT but the offer was declined.

  3. I will immediately grab your rss feed as I can’t find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or
    newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly let me know so that I may just subscribe.

    • Jess @ RSPCA says:

      Hi Amy – there should be a sign up at the bottom of each post, before the comments. Glad to hear you enjoy our blog!

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