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Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

One set of rules eggsactly what's needed

Free-range eggs will finally have a national standard, giving consumers more food for thought when making their choice.

ALEXANDRA BATHMAN June 24, 2014 3:20am

Dookie free-range egg farmer Jo Nelson said consumers would benefit from a national free-range egg standard.


Australia’s state and territory consumer affairs ministers recently agreed to introduce a legally enforceable standard for free-range eggs.

One local producer welcomed the news.

Free-range egg farmer Jo Nelson operates Good Lookin’ Googees at Dookie with her husband Dave and said the range of industry accreditation models created a range of different definitions for free-range.

‘‘If there is one set of rules the customer will know what product they are buying,’’ Mrs Nelson said.

‘‘The consumer makes their own decisions and the product makes a difference to them.’’

The existing framework applying to free-range eggs includes CSIRO’s Model Code for Welfare of Animals: Domestic and Poultry.

It defines free-range as a farm with a maximum of 1500 chickens per hectare — but only the ACT follows the model and it is not enforceable.

The only state to have a free-range standard is Queensland, allowing 1500 to 10000/ha. Nationally, the voluntary industry code allows up to 20000/ha.

Good Lookin’ Googees farms 1500 Hy-Line chickens across 48ha on paddock rotations with portable sheds on skids.

Mrs Nelson said a standard should consider whether chook sheds were movable or fixed as well as the number of chickens per hectare.

‘‘You need to move the chickens around otherwise you can end up with muddy paddocks because chooks just scratch all the time and that to me does not mean free-range,’’ Mrs Nelson said.

‘‘As long as they have grass, they are fine.’’

Mrs Nelson said the final standard needed to be fair across the industry.

She believed the current voluntary standard of 20000 was unacceptable and considered 1500 chickens/ha to be an industry maximum when considering the chickens’ welfare.

‘‘I would say 1500/ha would not be enough space but you’ve got to factor in the bigger farms,’’ Mrs Nelson said.

NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rob Stowe said the framework for a national standard would be revised early in 2015.

‘‘There is a need for co-ordination between industry, government and regulatory and non-regulatory agencies to develop a sound approach to clearer labelling requirements for egg producers,’’ Mr Stowe said.

In the meantime, how can you tell if you’ve bought a good free-range egg?

‘‘A free-range egg will have a thicker egg white,’’ Mrs Nelson said.

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