Labelling: Egg production systems

Free-range, barn laid or cage eggs?

There are three systems of egg production that are guided by the national Model code of practice for the welfare of animals - domestic poultry 4th edition 

According to the Model Code, for eggs to be defined:

  • free-range: hens are housed in sheds and have access to an outdoor range
  • barn laid: hens are free to roam within a shed which may have more than one level
  • cage: hens are continuously housed in cages within a shed

Irrespective of the system of production:

Egg producers must meet the minimum standards of care for hens for each system of production as set out in the Model Code.

Free-range egg standards in the Model Code include:

  • hens have access to an outdoor area (range) during daylight hours for a minimum of eight hours per day, shaded areas and shelter from rain and windbreaks
  • there is a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare, however, higher numbers are acceptable if hens are regularly rotated onto fresh range areas and continuing fodder cover is provided
  • acceptable and unacceptable animal management practices

As hens are housed in sheds when not out on the range, the Model Code sets out guidelines for the maximum number of hens that can be housed and this applies to both free-range and barn laid systems of production.

Accreditation schemes for free-range

There are a number of voluntary egg production accreditation schemes operating in Australia. Egg producers can choose which scheme to be accredited with.

The schemes listed below all adopt the minimum standards outlined in the Model Code and add their own specific standards to accredit eggs as free-range. All the schemes include independent auditing.

The below table was developed by the NSW Food Authority, in consultation with the NSW Egg Labelling Forum, to help consumers make informed choices about the eggs they buy. The information in the table has been provided by the certification schemes.

Schemes may have additional standards that they apply to free-range egg production. Contact the schemes for further information.

If you run a free-range egg accreditation scheme and would like to have your scheme reviewed for inclusion in the table, please contact the Authority on 1300 552 406.

Scheme Standards for Free-range
 Model Code Hens have access to the outdoors and shelter? Maximum of 1500 hens per hectare or higher where hens are regularly moved onto fresh range areas Acceptable animal management practices defined? Logos and labelling 
Accreditation Scheme    
expand/collapse all
Australian Egg Corporation Limited Current Standard: Egg Corp Assured

Australian Egg Corporation. Egg Corp Assured logo

Complies with Model Code

 

Hens have access to the outdoor range during daylight hours (minimum 8 hours a day)

Hens on the range have access to shaded areas and shelter from rain

Windbreaks should be provided in exposed areas

Every reasonable effort must be made to protect hens from predators at all times
For layer hens maximum 1500 birds per hectare

Higher numbers acceptable, where regular rotation of hens onto fresh range occurs and close management is undertaken, which provides some continuing fodder cover
Beak trimming should be performed by an experienced operator or under supervision of an experienced operator Certified egg producers are entitled to use the ECA Certification trademark

Cartons must state the egg production system e.g. cage, barn, free-range

Producers use own labels
Australian Egg Corporation Limited Proposed Standard: Egg Standards Australia Farm Quality Assurance Standard for Egg Production

TBA

AECL is developing a Quality Assurance Standard for eggs to supersede ECA
  Details to come
Australian Certified Organic Ltd Australian Certified Organic Standard 2013

Australian Certified Organic logo

Complies with Model Code + additional standards 

 

Hens shall have access to pastured areas during the majority of daylight hours

Vegetative cover or other means of shading shall be designed and positioned to ensure hens have ease of access to harbour to avoid aerial predators as well as protection from extreme weather events
Range area total density should not exceed 2500 hens per hectare where stock or forage rotation is practised and shall not exceed 1500 hens per hectare for set stocking systems Systematic beak trimming as well as the use of poly peepers are prohibited

However there are exemptions to this provision please see the standard for more information

Withholding feed and water to induce moulting is prohibited
Certified egg producers can use the Australian Certified Organic logo
Free Range Farmers Association Inc. Free Range Farmers Association Inc.
Standards - Egg Production - Rev 12 - 2013

Free Range Farmers Association logo

Complies with Model Code + additional standards
  Hens must have unrestricted access to free-range runs during the daylight hours

Hens must have permanent access to weatherproof housing

Adequate shade and wind protection must be provided
750 hens per hectare
(maximum)
Practices such as beak trimming, toe clipping, induced moulting are prohibited Accredited farmers display the Free Range Farmers Association Inc. Victoria logo
Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Limited FREPA Free Range Egg Standards

Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Limited logo

Complies with Model Code + additional standards
  Hens have unrestricted access to range outdoors during daylight hours

Outdoor area where the hens range must have shade, shelter and palatable vegetation
1500 hens per hectare (maximum) but lower numbers if land is not sustainable at this stocking density Beak trimming is only allowed in accordance with the Egg Industry Accreditation Program

Induced moulting is not permitted

Use of poly peepers is not permitted
Certified members allowed to use the Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia Limited logo
Humane Choice True Free Range

Humane Choice True Free Range logo

Complies with Model Code + additional standards
  Hens must be allowed free movement and access to the paddock for a minimum of 8 hours per day

Outdoor shelter should include windbreaks and shade
1500 hens per hectare (maximum) Practices such as beak trimming and induced moulting are prohibited Producers can use the Humane Choice True Free Range logo
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standards - Layer Hens (August 2011)

RSPCA's approved farming logo

Complies with Model Code + additional standards
  Hens have access to range outdoors for a minimum of 8 hours per day

Sufficient overhead shade should be provided to encourage hens to access the range
1500 hens per hectare (maximum) on farms where there is no rotation to other outdoor areas

Or

2500 hens (maximum) per hectare where hens can be rotated to other outdoor areas
Beak trimming must only occur where all other methods of preventing feather pecking have failed

Induced moulting is not permitted
Accredited farms are authorised to use the RSPCA Paw of Approval
Coles Current standard: Coles Egg Production Standard for Free Range eggs

Coles logo

Complies with Model Code
  Outdoor areas are designed to encourage hens to roam, protect them from extremes of weather and temperature and allow natural flock behaviour such as roaming around, perching and dust bathing Every hen is allocated at least a square metre of outdoor space which can be up to 10, 000 hens (maximum) per hectare Beak trimming to be avoided through provision of proper environment and breed selection

Where required, only allow a single beak trim to be undertaken by an accredited person under vet supervision
Coles brand (private label) free-range eggs
Woolworths Current standard: Egg Corp Assured

Woolworths logo

Complies with Model Code
  Outdoor areas where hens range are designed to protect hens from extremes of weather and temperature 1500 hens per hectare with higher numbers allowed (up to 10,000 per hectare) if hens are regularly rotated onto fresh range areas Beak trimming must be done by an accredited person Woolworths Macro and Select brand free-range eggs

 

Regulating

Role of NSW Food Authority:
The role of the Authority is to help ensure food products are labelled correctly and investigate complaints about misleading egg labelling.

Egg producers that label egg cartons as free-range when the eggs are not produced in accordance with a free-range production system are breaching the Food Act 2003 (NSW), and may be subject to enforcement action by the Authority.

Role of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission:
Cartons of eggs labelled and sold as free-range when in fact the eggs contained are not free-range, is misleading conduct and the egg producer is breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and may be prosecuted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Animal welfare and the Model Code

The Model Code is a national set of guidelines relating to the welfare of domestic poultry agreed to in 2002. The Australian Government Department of Agriculture through the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, initiates and oversees reviews of the Model Code.

The Model Code must be read in totality and a number of schemes utilise flock rotation, which is actually the majority interpretation of the Model Code.

The Model Code clearly refers to the point that stocking density alone is not related to animal welfare. There are several points in the Code where it provides for a system approach to a higher stocking density. For more information go to the Model code of practice for the welfare of animals - domestic poultry 4th edition

Egg safety

Regardless of the production system under which eggs are produced, like all perishable foods, they need careful handling to keep them safe.


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