Dirty dozen - the truth about free range eggsBY DIONNE LISTER
We all love eggs but it’s confronting to think that two-thirds of eggs sold in Australian supermarkets are laid by hens kept in small cages that have a footprint of an A4 piece of paper, with five hens per cage. Free range eggs give us an alternative and a lot of us buy them because it’s better for the chicken and, we assume, better for us.
Unfortunately not all eggs advertised as free range are what they claim, and even the term ‘free range’ can have a different meaning to what we assume. At the moment, in Australia, there are no defined legal standards for egg producers to follow, so some farmers who advertise ‘free range’ may have their chickens happily wandering the paddock, but some may have thousands of hens packed into a barn.
If you want to buy free range eggs that are produced by chickens that really do get to go outside in a non crowded environment and have a stress-free life, there are accreditations provided by organisations such as RSPCA, Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia (FREPA), Biological Farmers Association of Australia and Australian Egg Corporation (Egg Corp Assured scheme). Australian Certified Organic eggs are also good to look out for when sourcing free range products.
Even in the above schemes there are differences with the RSPCA allowing the classification of ‘free-range’ for hens housed in humane (their definition) barn conditions, with no access to the outside. The Australian Certified Organic chickens seem to have the best conditions with a standard of 5 birds per square metre as opposed to 7 for the RSPCA and 14 for the Australian Egg Corporation. Just so you know, cage systems allow 18 birds per square metre - not good.
The other thing to watch out for is the old greenwashing caper. Some labels say the words ‘organic grain fed hens’, but these may be barn laid, whereas Certified Organic eggs must be free-range and comply with their standards. It has also been found that some producers have substituted cage eggs for the free range, which is a blatant deception, so buyer beware. If you would like more comprehensive information, Choice has done an in depth article which has loads of information.
They may cost a little more, but I’ll be looking out for the Australian Certified Organic eggs next time I’m cruising the supermarket.
Below are some of the logos that you can trust: