Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Consumer confidence plummets

No, this is not a post about the see-sawing global financial crisis and how it is hitting consumer confidence. This is about something else that is quite serious: plummeting consumer confidence in eggs.

Australia's consumer rights organisation, Choice, has named the Australian Egg Corporation amongst its ten 2008 Shonky Awards for misleading consumers about free range eggs.

It seems that the Australian Egg Corporation's definition of 'free range eggs' gives a rubber stamp to the treatment of laying chickens that doesn't meet what we would expect as 'free range' or even humane. According to the Corporation's standard for
free range, there can be 14 hens per square meter, whereas battery hens get 18 to the square meter. That is hardly much difference!

I feel duped – all this time, I've thought that the free range eggs that I'm buying from supermarkets and greengrocers are really from hens allowed to range free and treated humanely. Sure, I've heard the many arguments between free range breeders about accreditation, and whether free range egg farmers are any more humane if they de-beak their chooks, or lock them in barns at night (which actually protects them from the cold and predators, really) etc etc.

I certainly didn't expect the chooks to be crammed in at over a dozen to the square meter. If you think of a large egg farm, that is a lot of chooks crammed in the paddock.

Sure, I had my suspiscions about the veracity of the 'free range' claim when I've heard breeders insist there is no way the number of credible free range farmers could produce the masses of eggs being touted as free range on the market (and there are many claims and issues in this matter).

Because of this, I've tried to be more deliberate in my choice of free range eggs, and instead of relying on the picture of happy hens pecking in greed paddocks on the cartoon, to look for signs of more stringent (compared to the Egg Corporation's) assurance of free range: organic certification for one (but prohibitively expensive), and accreditation by Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia. Alternatively, you can buy your eggs direct from free range farmers, such as at CERES organic market (where you can see the conditions the chooks live in) and at farmers' markets.

But it is often not possible – especially when we're rushed or making last minute purchases, and the store we're at doesn't stock accredited free range eggs, so we end up grabbing the carton with the picture of happy chooks labelled free range and hope their claims are true.

I guess this story illustrates that there is no real excuse for sloppy shopping. Just as there is no excuse for slopping marketing.

[Image by zoomar - under creative commons license]

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At November 26, 2008 1:23 pm, Blogger djfoobarmatt said...

Grrrr! What a bunch of morally bankrupt liars.

At November 26, 2008 1:45 pm, Blogger unique_stephen said...

We mostly get ours from a farm - my sister in law brings them back when she goes horse riding every week.

At November 26, 2008 1:54 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Matt: agreed.

Steve: Sounds great. I love farm-fresh eggs. They are the best for making poached eggs with. But do you know what kind of farm it is? Farm fresh doesn't always mean non-battery hen farming.

The freshest eggs I've had lately was on holiday to Queenscliff, and the place where we stayed had chickens pecking about the place – when they weren't put back in the run in the evenings. My partner and second child collected eggs one morning, and we poached them. Beautiful!

But we can't all keep chickens...

At November 27, 2008 2:50 pm, Blogger unique_stephen said...

It's a barn, the chooks run around under the horses hooves and lay eggs in the kids riding helmets.


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