Chickens around the nation are celebrating this week with the announcement that at least one major egg producer cares about their working conditions.
Sunny Queen Farms has committed to reducing their stock density to 1500 birds per hectare, roughly the equivalent of a queen-size bed per bird and, here’s the amazing thing, in an actual outdoors space.
What’s that you say? Aren’t all free range egg chickens free to fluff up their feathers amid grass, scratch for grasshoppers and bathe in dust beneath the light of the sun?
Sadly, the answer is, “No”.
The vast majority of free-range egg layers in Australia are crammed into barns with 9999 of their mates. There’s an open door that holds the promise of an outdoor life but seeing as the food’s all inside and they’ve never actually been exposed to nature, most chooks never get to know the bounty beyond the barn.
The scary thing is that these are the free-range birds we’re talking about. Cage eggs are another story. But cage eggs are out of favour with the Australian public. Woolworths and Coles have declared that they will phase out cage eggs for good. Is it a coincidence that, at the same time, politicians are working with Big Egg to set an official standard for free-range eggs of… 10,000 birds per hectare. That’s one square metre per bird – think about it, that’s not a lot of space, although they are doing better than cage hens, which make do with an area the size of an A4 piece of paper.
The CSIRO, along with consumer watchdog Choice, are pushing for the standard to be 1500 birds per hectare, which would give the hens a nice life of pecking and dust baths. Who do you think is going to win?
So how do you know if the eggs you’ve paid top dollar for are the real deal?
Choice has come to the rescue with a fantastic list of free-range eggs that are – or aren’t – all they’re cracked up to be.
These tend to be the small producers, available in their home states. Organic and biodynamic eggs feature heavily. Among the larger producers (I’m happy to give credit where credit’s due) Macro Organic Free-Range Eggs are on the Good Egg list, as are McLean Run and, of course Sunny Queen Farms.
There aren’t many surprises here but one shocker that stands out is Eco Eggs, which boasts about superior-quality eggs yet maintains 10,000 birds per hectare. Eco Eggs won a Choice Shonky Award last year in honour of this and the fact they are outrageously expensive at $1.37 per 100g.
Also on the Bad Egg list are Aldi, Woolworths, Coles and Pace Farms Free Range eggs, plus plenty more.
To see how your favourite free-range eggs stacked up, check out the Choice list here.
What do you think when you read “free-range”? Are you surprised to learn that so many chooks never see the light of day?