Choice – and “free range” eggs

I still read Choice magazine, although sometimes its passion for causes leaves me a bit cool.   One such cause that Choice has come back to again and again in recent months (and on-line, too) is the matter of “free range” eggs.  They’re upset that eggs can now be labelled (and also see here) as “free range” if the hens are stocked at densities of up to 10,000 per hectare.  Their preferred stocking density is up to 1,500 per hectare – a point that they’ve made a number of times in recent months.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t worthy issues here.  However, all the emphasis on this aspect of egg labelling seems to me to be a bit shrill.   Choice’s concern doesn’t seem to be welfare of the chooks (not a word about the animal welfare aspects of “cage eggs”, or even “barn laid” eggs).   My cynical mind suggests that the real concern is that the density figure adopted has made it possible for large scale producers to get into this segment of the market, presumably at the expense of smaller producers, one of which is actually named in the current issue of the magazine.   But isn’t the real issue whether consumers are properly informed?

I observe that the figure of 10,000 is less that the originally proposed figure of 20,000 that parts of the industry were pushing for and also that if specialist producers really think consumers want eggs laid by hens at the 1,500 density then why don’t those producers promote their eggs on this basis, bearing in mind that all producers of “free range” eggs now have to state the stocking density on the label?   True, it’s apparently open to state “one hen per m²” which may sound better than 10,000 hens per hectare, but surely not a lot turns on this?

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