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Free range eggs

Last updated 14 October 2017

Whilst free range operations profess to care about the welfare of their animals, there is no legal framework decreeing what 'free range' actually is, so standards between free range egg farms can vary dramatically. The biggest difference between free range farms is the number of birds kept in a certain space. While 1,500 birds per hectare is the recommended maximum, this is not enforceable and large scale producers are keeping their hens at much higher densities to cash in on the growing market for free range products.

Current (voluntary) standards allow free range egg farmers to keep up to 1,500 chickens per hectare, but Australian Egg Corporation Ltd (AECL) wants to increase this to allow a staggering 20,000 laying hens per hectare and to call eggs produced under these intense conditions 'free range', to attract a premium price.

AECL also proposes that free range hens be allowed to be locked inside sheds for the first 25 weeks of their lives — even though they begin laying eggs at just 18 weeks old and currently go outside from about 5-6 weeks of age.

Previously, Queensland was the only Australian state to have legislated a maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare; however in June 2013, the Queensland government increased this to 10000 hens per hectare. In response to this move, Voiceless Legal Counsel Emmanuel Giuffre said, "This means that farmers can increase their stocking densities by over 660%, while continuing to label their eggs free range".

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