Liena free-range egg producers argue for stricter controls

FREE RANGE: Nan and Danny Tubb with some of their 500 happy hens at Meander Pastured Free Range Eggs, Liena. Picture: Johanna Baker-Dowdell
FREE RANGE: Nan and Danny Tubb with some of their 500 happy hens at Meander Pastured Free Range Eggs, Liena. Picture: Johanna Baker-Dowdell

The term “free-range eggs” seems simple enough, but consumers and producers are often confused by what it means and which definition to believe.

Consumers are presented with varying free-range egg prices and producers face uncertainty when choosing to label their eggs as free range.

A consumer information standard stipulating what free range means was recently registered by the federal government, small business minister Michael McCormack said.

“The information standard will require eggs labelled as free-range to have been laid by hens that had meaningful and regular access to the outdoors and with an outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens, or less, per hectare,” Mr McCormack said.

“The stocking density will need to be prominently displayed on the packaging to allow easy comparison between different eggs on supermarket shelves,” he said.

Liena pastured free-range egg producers Nan and Danny Tubb argue stocking density should be much lower than 10,000, and closer to the CSIRO’s egg Model Code of Practice, which recommends 1500 hens per hectare.

“While a number of stakeholders argued for this stocking density to be lower, my decision takes into consideration the views of consumers, advocacy groups and industry, and provides a sensible balance with a focus on informing consumers – so they can make the choice that’s right for their needs,” Mr McCormack said.

The Tubbs run Meander Pastured Free Range Eggs on 58 hectares and stock around 500 Australorp chickens, meaning their farm is far below the 10,000-hen limit per hectare.

To further distinguish their eggs from the majority, the Tubbs use the word “pastured” to show consumers their hens roam freely on fresh pasture throughout daylight hours.

“The point of difference we, and the other producers who are less than 1500 hens per hectare, are trying to do now is putting the word pastured in,” Mrs Tubb said.

“Pastured is a cut above free range, because you get these free-range producers who have 10,000 birds per hectare and they’re just in a shed and they’ve got a little doggy door access to the outdoors.

“If you leave 10,000 birds in one place, it’ll just be dirt. Under the law they are free range, but [ours] are pastured free range,” she said.

While “pastured” is not an official definition when it comes to egg varieties, the Tubbs said they were trying to bring this into effect because “they’re free to do whatever chooks do; they’re happy chooks,” Mrs Tubb said.

Meander Pastured Free Range Eggs is one of many free-range egg producers that have signed up to CHOICE’s CluckAR app which allows consumers to photograph egg cartons and then illustrates the brand’s stocking density via augmented reality.