The egg industry has hit back at consumer advocacy group Choice over its campaign to improve transparency around free-range egg claims.
Choice held a media event outside Parliament House in Canberra this morning in its latest move to agitate for change ahead of a meeting of consumer affairs ministers on the topic at the end of March.
Among Choice's concerns are “chook cams” that imply companies are doing the right thing, egg brands that depict a generic healthy lifestyle on their packaging, rather than real farm conditions, and stocking densities.
Choice CEO Alan Kirkland said: “Very soon, state, territory and federal ministers responsible for consumer affairs will meet to decide if they’ll clean up misleading claims in the free-range egg market. It's time for each minister to make a choice. Do they think consumers deserve truth in food labelling?
"The ministers need to know that consumers are not prepared to pay a premium if the outcome of this process doesn't meet their expectations.
“At the end of this month, politicians will decide whether to clean up the free-range market. With furious lobbying from large-scale egg producers, there is a real risk that ministers will cave in and allow the industry to keep cashing in on consumer confusion," Kirkland said.
Choice is calling on consumers to look for brands that meet the Model Code of Practice, stocking hens at a maximum 1,500 per hectare. The organisation says its research has shown that 213 million eggs were sold as free-range in 2014 that didn’t meet consumers’ expectations.
Egg Farmers Australia (EFA) has countered the claim with its own research, conducted by Quantum Market Research in February, which shows that 73 percent of consumers at point of sale were satisfied they had enough information regarding free range egg welfare standards.
“So we know that when Choice claims Australian egg labelling doesn’t live up to consumer expectations, it is a load of crock and Choice is deliberately misrepresenting consumers,” Dion Andary, EFA member and egg farmer from Two Wells, South Australia said.
“What Choice won’t admit is that there is actually broad alignment between Australian consumers and egg farmers when it comes to definitions of free range and that the people it is advocating for are a small minority of niche farmers and consumers.
“While consumer views on free range are varied and diverse, they are generally aligned with egg industry performance and management systems.
“There is clear evidence from our research that the majority of consumers - 86 percent - would buy eggs labelled free range as long as chickens have access to the outdoors, and it’s up to the hen if they want to go out, or stay in.”
The appointment of a former farming lobbyist as commissioner to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), meanwhile, is also drawing criticism, according to Fairfax Media.
Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, was appointed agriculture commissioner at the ACCC, which has so far prosecuted or penalised six egg producers over their free-range claims.