Happy World Egg Day! Eggs have been getting quite a lot of media attention lately. Last week Woolworths announced that they will no longer stock caged eggs in their stores from 2018, which is a huge win for the animal welfare movement and countless numbers of hens of course! This provides undeniable proof that the choices we make as consumers really do matter and they matter a whole lot! So please keep choosing higher animal welfare products and avoiding factory-farmed products. We are all, collectively, making a difference to the millions of animals who suffer in factory farms.
Another issue getting media coverage of late is the confusion surrounding the labelling of free-range eggs. At present in Australia, eggs labeled free-range may come from farms with stocking densities ranging anywhere from 1,500 to 40,000 birds per hectare. Egg Corp has admitted that around 1/3 of so-called free-range egg producers are stocking hens at more than 20,000 birds per hectare, which is 13 times what the government’s model code for the welfare of animals defines as ”free-range” (this model code is a guideline and not legally enforceable in most states). Without government legislation defining what free-range actually means, it’s a huge challenge for consumers to determine if they are getting what they’re paying for.
Let’s hope that the government acts soon to standardise labelling, but in the meantime what should you buy? If you’re shopping in a supermarket, your best bet for buying truly ethically produced eggs is to buy certified organic. All certified organic eggs come from farms with stocking densities of 1,500 birds per hectare or less. The brands of free-range eggs stocked in the big supermarkets are likely to come from farms with much higher stocking densities.
Many of the free-range eggs sold at specialty and organic grocers or farmer’s markets are not independently certified but may be being produced with high animal welfare standards. In the absence of government legislation, it’s hard to give guarantees. Ask the retailer or farmer the following questions to determine how your eggs were produced:
1. What is the stocking density in birds per hectare?
Should be less than 1,500
2. Are the hens de-beaked?
Free ranging hens need their beaks to forage and de-beaking is unnecessary when birds are given adequate space.
Momentum is building for change in the free-range egg industry. Keep voting with your wallet for ethical choices.