No sunny side with free-range change
April 24, 2012
Scrambled ... Choice and the RSPCA were excluded from formal talks on how free-range eggs should be labelled.
SHOPPERS are being kept in the dark over plans for a new definition for the term free-range, the consumer group Choice has warned after it was excluded from formal talks on resolving the dispute over how eggs should be labelled.
The RSPCA was also not invited to take part in the state government's truth-in-labelling reference group, which will meet for the final time today in an effort to bring an end to the inconsistent terms used on egg cartons in NSW.
Egg labelling has become a contentious issue after the Australian Egg Corporation, which represents most egg producers, devised a new standard that would allow a free-range egg farm to have as many as 20,000 chickens per hectare.
Free-range farmers and animal welfare groups are outraged by the new standard, which they say is unethical and will not give consumers any confidence in the free-range industry. The present model code allows 1500 chickens per hectare.
A spokeswoman for Choice, Ingrid Just, said it made a request to the office of the Minister for Primary Resources, Katrina Hodgkinson, and the NSW Food Authority to take part in the talks as observers but was denied access.
''Our main concern is that consumers' voices will not be heard and without any consumer representation at this forum, it will be very hard for the minister to get an idea of what consumers expect when purchasing free-range,'' Ms Just said.
The RSPCA, which endorses many free-range egg farms and allows them to use the organisation's logo on their packaging, was also excluded from the labelling forum, despite its extensive work in animal welfare.
''RSPCA Australia was not invited and is disappointed to have not been included in these discussions,'' an RSPCA spokeswoman said.
But a spokeswoman for the NSW Food Authority said the labelling forum was convened to facilitate an ''industry-supported resolution to egg labelling challenges''.
She said major industry representatives were involved in the forum but consumer advocates may become involved in the process ''further down the track, once the scope of the issue has been gauged''.
The Greens MP John Kaye said the forum was never intended to protect consumers and genuine free-range farmers.
''Its membership, timeline and internal processes were carefully crafted to guarantee an ineffective outcome that leaves the big industrial producers unconstrained by a legislated definition of free-range,'' Dr Kaye said.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/no-sunny-side-with-freerange-change-20120423-1xheb.html#ixzz1stp4hNCX