Free-range claims ruffle feathers at the ACCC

The inside of an enclosure operated by Swan Valley Egg Farms, which has attracted the attention of the ACCC.
The inside of an enclosure operated by Swan Valley Egg Farms, which has attracted the attention of the ACCC.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission claims Snowdale Holdings, which runs Swan Valley Egg Farms, misled consumers about the conditions on its farms. It says Snowdale used words and images on egg cartons that made false and misleading representations that the eggs labelled as ‘free range’ were produced.

Snowdale produces eggs labelled as coming from caged and free range hens and sold to various retailers.

The ACCC claims Snowdale created the false impression that eggs it labelled as free range came from hens that could move about freely on an open range.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the commission does not have a role in determining whether farming practices are appropriate and was not debating the merits of cage, barn or free range systems.

‘The ACCC’s concern is simply to ensure that the labelling of eggs accurately reflect the particular farming practices of the producer and the expectations of a consumer making purchasing choices based on those representations,’ he said.

The Federal Court action comes as the Greens and animal welfare groups prepare to target Premier Colin Barnett in support of stricter egg labelling laws in WA.

Greens MP Lynn Mac-Laren’s egg-labelling legislation introduced last Thursday defines free range eggs as those from farms with 1500 hens or less per hectare, or 2500 hens per hectare under an approved paddock rotation system.

‘It won’t be debated until next year and I am hoping that with Animals Australia and the Humane Society International lobbying we can appeal to the Premier’s good sense,’ she said.

‘It is important because we have a code of practice for how hens are kept, and that sets animal welfare standards but does not connect that with labelling the eggs for sale.

‘It would mean there would be a penalty if you try to label eggs for sale with free range that aren’t from a farm that meets those conditions.’

Snowdale director Barry Cocking could not be reached for comment but previously told The Advocate Swan Valley Eggs would be ‘fully cage-free by 2020.’