It can be very confusing to know how to choose free-range eggs and poultry in Australia. In order to obtain the most nutrients and minimise toxins when purchasing free-range eggs and poultry, we should look for pasture-raised, happy, healthy birds. However, with limited legislation and confusing consumer information, it is difficult for us to know what we are buying.
In this blog, we attempt to provide some information that will assist you to know what to look for and what to ask for when purchasing free-range eggs and poultry in Australia.
Recently, there has been more focus on the stocking density of laying birds. However, there are many criteria that need to be considered such as the use of antibiotics, synthetic feed, rotated housing, facilities to allow for the development of natural social groups within the housing unit, facilities enable normal roosting for
roosting birds, mutilations like de-beaking, toe trimming or wing cutting
Unfortunately, there are no regulations governing these points for free-range eggs and poultry. However, there are independent bodies that provide certification. We have listed these in this blog and we will endeavour to provide as much information as possible on what to look for when eggs and poultry.
Australian Free-Range Egg Standards
Firstly, let’s start with eggs since there are more guidelines in place (not necessarily legislations) in Australia.
As from 26th April 2018 you may have noticed that free range egg packaging has additional information regarding the number of birds per hectare. However, there is currently no legislation in Australia that governs the term “free range”. Below is the NSW food authority statement
There is currently no legal definition of ‘free range eggs’ in Australia, however a new information standard is being developed under Australian Consumer Law.
There are a number of voluntary industry accreditation schemes surrounding use of the term ‘free range’ on egg cartons.
Producers who choose to use, or not use a voluntary industry accreditation system for ‘free range eggs’ must not provide information that is false, misleading or deceptive under Australian Consumer Law.
Source: NSW Food Authority
On 6 February 2018, the ACCC released a statement regarding “free range egg” labelling, which came into effect on 26 April 2018.
Egg producers cannot use the words ‘free range’ on their egg cartons unless the eggs were laid by hens that:
· had meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range during the daylight hours of the laying cycle
· were able to roam and forage on the outdoor range
· were subject to a stocking density of 10 000 hens or less per hectare, and that outdoor stocking density is prominently displayed on the packaging or signage.
In addition, in October 2018, the ACCC produced a guide for egg producers to understand the fair trading rights and obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
A number of independent, non-government organisations have also produced guides for both egg and poultry meat farming. The Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia has documented 21 guidelines for free-range egg production: FREPA Range Care – Egg Standards
The RSPCA states:
Accreditation bodies in Australia and overseas specify maximum densities from 750 to 2,500 birds per hectare. The EU and New Zealand legal maximum is 2,500 birds per hectare. The Australian legal maximum density is much higher than in the rest of the world.
On 26 April 2018, the ACCC free-range guidelines came into effect. Producers claiming free-range labelled eggs were subject to a stocking density of 10,000 hens or less per hectare. The EU and New Zealand maximum is 2,500 per hectare. However, I recommend looking for free-range labelling of fewer than 1,500 hens per hectare to ensure happy, healthy pasture-raised hens.
How to choose poultry in Australia?
With no government regulations regarding free-range poultry in Australia, it is best to look for organic labelling when choosing poultry in Australia
Australian Free Range Poultry Standards
Now, let’s look into free-range poultry in more detail…
There is no legislation nor standards from the Australian government dictating Free Range Poultry in Australia. However, a non-government organisation, Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia have documented a set of guidelines for:
Ideally, we should be looking for happy, hens that are roaming on pastures and fed high-quality feed. The FEPA standards stipulate 17 criteria, including the ability for the farmer to deviate from the standards for an agreed time. The FREPA standard says that:
“The stocking density in the shed must not exceed 28kgs of live birds per square metre of floor space, unless there is mechanical ventilation where it should not exceed 30kgs of live birds per square metre of floor space.”
Source: FREPA Australian standards
However, unlike eggs, ACCC does not specify obligations for poultry regarding how many birds per hectare or meter.
If we convert this to the same measurement as Eggs (15,000 hens per hectare) we need to understand the average size a bird. Backyard Chicken Coops indicates that most medium to large bird averages between 3 and 4 kilos. So let’s use 3 kilos as the average. There are 1,000 meters in a hectare so that means 30kgs of live birds per square meter equates to 10 birds per square meter or 10,000 birds per hectare
The RSPCA indicates similar guidelines in their: 2013 RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standards — Meat chickens
Stocking density is calculated on the basis of bird live weight and the floor space available to the birds in the shed. Stocking density must not exceed: a. 28kg per m2 for natural ventilation systems2 b. 34kg per m2 for mechanical ventilation systems.
There are no enforceable rules for chicken production in Australia. Below is a summary from Make It Possible outlining certification systems for chicken production in
Australia. Certification systems included in the table below:
- Free-Range Egg and Poultry Association (FREPA)
- RSPCA Approved Farming (RSPCA)
- Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
- Organic Food Chain (OFC)
- National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA)
- Organic Growers of Australia (OGA)
Note: If the production system isn’t specified on the packaging, the chicken was almost certainly factory farmed.
My untrained assessment is that you are safer to stick to the organic certification to ensure pasture-raised poultry
Meat chickens shall have access to areas not exceeding 2500 birds per ha for set stocking systems, or 4800 for rotational systems. Rotations are defined whereby shedding systems are either moveable or whereby rotations and resting of range areas ensures recovery of forage areas between production cycles.
NASAA standard: adult birds 25kg per square metre
The best way to ensure your chickens are happy and healthily pasture raised is to buy organic. Below are excerpts from Australian Certified Organic Standard 2017 V.1:
Housing units shall have sufficient distribution of feeders, drinkers and other facilities to allow for the development of natural social groups within the housing unit. Shed stocking density, including roosting areas, for laying chickens shall not exceed 16 kg/m2 and for all other birds shall not exceed 25 kg/m2 over the usable area of the shed. The useable area of the shed may include all flooring and other resting areas, including nest boxes. At least one-third of the useable area of the shed shall be covered by solid flooring materials that must include some bedding and litter materials.
Range area total stocking density at any given time for layers shall not exceed 2500 birds per ha where stock or forage rotations are practised and shall not exceed 1500 birds per ha for set stocking systems. Meat chickens shall have access to areas not exceeding 2500 birds per ha for set stocking systems, or 4800 for rotational systems. Rotations are defined whereby shedding systems are either moveable or whereby rotations and resting of range areas ensures recovery of forage areas between production cycles.
- Battery brooding is prohibited
- Rotation of stocking areas should be such as to ensure resting of pastures after each batch of poultry.
- Withholding feed and water to induce moulting is prohibited.
- Practices such as systematic debeaking as well as the use of poly peepers are prohibited