Cracks appear in egg labelling
WHEN you buy a carton of free-range eggs at the supermarket, you may feel good that the eggs were laid by hens that are not caged or confined, but can roam in green pastures.
Think again. A meeting was convened by the NSW Food Authority in Sydney yesterday to discuss labelling standards, which currently allow producers to call their eggs "free range" even if the hens' beaks have been cut off and they are densely farmed in barns with limited access to the open air.
Consumers need easily to see what kind of eggs they are buying, says Gunderimba egg producer Simon Cripps-Clark.
Mr Cripps-Clark markets more than 3000 dozen eggs a week from his certified organic farm, where 6000 contented chooks enjoy grazing on lush pastures beneath the fruit, nut and cabinet timber trees, with organic supplementary feed thrown in.
They are not debeaked - a cruel process, Mr Cripps-Clark says, inflicted on most hens raised for commercial egg production.
He's furious the Australian Food Authority, which has responsibility for truth in labelling, allows it to happen.
"It's not like cutting a fingernail - it's more like amputating a limb," he said.
"It makes pecking painful for the rest of the hen's life."
His eggs, sold under the Organigrow trademark with certified organic and Humane Choice labelling, can fetch a price premium 50% above that of other so-called "free-range" eggs.
"There is deceptive and misleading labelling of eggs - it's scandalous," he said.
"Consumers need to know how their eggs are produced. Current standards are undermining confidence in free-range labels and driving small producers out of the industry, which is exactly what big producers want to happen."
Humane Choice is an advocacy group for ethical food producers, which gives accreditation to free-range meat and egg production.
Its chief operating officer, Lee McCosker, attended yesterday's meeting with representatives from industry, government and the Australian Egg Corporation.
"Supermarket eggs with free-range labels often come from what amount to poultry feed lots, which is not what consumers believe," she said. "Big producers are operating without environmental controls."
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