NSW Fair Trading will lead work to enhance consumer confidence and certainty around egg labelling, including the development of a draft National Information Standard on free range eggs and with regard to the current review of the Model Code and any improvements in the effectiveness and enforceability of the Code.
Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe welcomed the decision at a meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory consumer affairs ministers in Cairns today.
The decision followed a submission by NSW Fair Trading that an information standard was needed to respond to growing consumer demand in the face of confusing and potentially false and misleading claims in the market.
“This is a good first step on the road to getting better outcomes for consumers when it comes to egg labelling,” he said. “NSW Fair Trading will now lead further work on this important consumer issue and expects to report back to Ministers at their next meeting in early 2015.”
A draft standard could include a definition of free-range and minimum labelling requirements for product packaging. It will be considered with regard to court outcomes from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigations into free-range claims on egg products.
The existing regulatory framework applying to free-range eggs includes a Model Code for Welfare of Animals: Domestic and Poultry but there is no national or legally enforceable definition of free-range.
The Model Code specifies a maximum of 1,500 fowl per hectare for free-range eggs. However, it allows for higher numbers of fowl per hectare where regular rotational activities occur. There are differing views among industry, regulators and stakeholders on how the maximum limit under the Model Code applies. Multiple industry accreditation schemes have led to a range of interpretations of the term free-range.
In August 2013, CHOICE outlined a range of concerns to NSW Fair Trading regarding free-range egg labelling including that the egg industry had admitted many eggs labelled as free-range did not meet the Model Code.
In its response to CHOICE in December last year, NSW Fair Trading noted the potential for cross border issues resulting from the lack of a nationally enforceable definition of free-range and identified the importance of consumers having access to consistent and accurate egg-labelling to make informed purchasing decisions.
Commissioner Stowe said consumers were increasingly taking into account values-based considerations when making food purchasing decisions.
“Consumers nationally have a right to clear and comprehensive information from industry to guide their purchasing decisions and they want transparency and consistency across borders,” he said. “There is too much confusion about the difference between the terms free range, barn laid, aviary and cage eggs and what they actually mean.
“There is a need for co-ordination between industry, government and regulatory and non-regulatory agencies to develop a sound approach to clearer labelling requirements for egg producers.”
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