Cracking the problem of identifying free range and organic eggs.
Organic, free range, organic free range, green, eco. Confused?
With so much choice in the supermarket aisle and so many ways of describing would-be green products, it can be hard to figure out what you're actually buying.
In Australia there is no single standard for organic or free range products and anyone can use those terms.
To make things more complicated, in Australia there is no single standard for organic or free-range products and anyone can use those terms.
What exactly are free range chickens?
While the consumer watchdog can take action over misleading labelling, the industry is not heavily regulated.
Here's a guide on how to spot what's really organic and free range and what it actually means.
What is organic?
Organic foods are grown and produced without the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilisers. Production has a strict focus on environmental sustainability, animal welfare and protecting the habitats of native animals.
Organic animal products all come from free-range animals, that have access to pastures and pesticide-free food for their whole lives. So, in a way, organic, free range, green and eco all overlap.
How to tell what you're buying is organic:
Organic food carries the logos of government-accredited groups that certify products, meaning you can trust what you buy has been produced to strict standards. The Australian Certified Organic "bud" logo is the most recognisable of the logos, is supported by the major supermarkets and can be seen on about 80 per cent of all organic products. Consumer group Choice recommends looking out for the bud logo and other symbols when buying something that is claimed to be organic.
Free-range eggs come from hens that have been housed in a shed and have access to roam in an outdoor area.
But there are several standards in Australia and no legal definition of free range.
Shoppers may also spot the logo for the Egg Corporation, representing the vast majority of egg producers in Australia, which has less specific standards for free range than other groups.
The Egg Corporation Assured standard, based on a government-endorsed code of practice:
- Hens are housed in sheds and have access to the outside area for about eight hours a day.
- Within a shed there are a maximum of 14 birds per square metre.
- Outside there are is a maximum of 1500 birds per hectare.
- If measures such as reducing bird density do not prevent cannibalism, beak trimming is allowed.
Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia standards:
- Hens are housed in sheds and have access to the outside during daylight hours.
- Within a shed there are a maximum of 10 birds per square metre up to 1000 birds.
- Outside there are a maximum of 750 birds per hectare.
- Beak trimming is allowed to prevent feather pecking.
- Hens are housed in sheds and can go outside by choice.
- Within a shed there are a maximum of nine hens per square metre.
- Outside there are a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare.
- Cannibalism should be at first be prevented by removing possible stressors such as lighting or humidity, before beak trimming is considered necessary and is carried out.
Egg Corporation managing director James Kellaway said: "Our view is that without welfare there's no eggs. We know that only birds that are in an environment where their welfare is secured, only those hens will produce eggs. It is in our interest, for a number of reasons, certainly commercially, to look after the welfare of our hens. Good welfare is front and centre of any egg farmer.
FREPA president Meg Parkinson said: "We say what we do and we do what we say. We are concerned about the welfare of the birds and we're concerned about the effect of birds on the environment. That's the basis of what we do and why we do it."
Standards of organic produce under Australian Certified Organic.
Chicken and poultry
- Organic chicken meat comes from birds that have access to pastures for most of the daylight hours.
- Birds have enough feeders and drinkers to allow them to form natural social groups without competing for food and water.
- Birds have weather-proof housing, with enough perches for normal roosting habits.
- Farmers can keep 2500 chickens per hectare to ensure space, 800 turkeys per hectare, 600 geese per hectare and 2500 guinea fowl per hectare.
- Debeaking or the use of poly peepers, which are devices to stop the birds from pecking, is NOT allowed.
Organic meat comes from animals that are given access to quality of life and a healthy diet and are not force fed.
- Breed types are raised in specific regions to ensure they have minimal impact on the environment.
- Any necessary modification to an animal - such as dehorning, castration, tail removal and mulesing - is only allowed when the the animal is young to minimise suffering.
- The use of feedlots or any method where animals are densely confined is not permitted, and the use of growth stimulants in feed is not allowed.
- Organic pork comes from pigs that are given ample space and are given access to pastures.
- Tail docking, teeth clipping and permanent nose ringing of pigs is not allowed.
- Animals are separated from non-organic grown animals at the abbatoir and slow killing methods are prohibited.
- Transport and movement of animals is also heavily regulated to minimise stress.
- Organic fish comes from water sources that have been confirmed to have little or no risk from contaminants such as heavy metals or pesticides.
- Tanks, cages or dams must not pose contamination risks.
- The natural habits and needs of the fish are considered in habitat structure, the density of fish stocking and water quality.
- Fish are not be exposed to extra stress during farming and slaughter.
Fruit and vegetables
- Organic fruit and vegetables are grown without the use of chemicals and fertilisers.
- Crops are grown to promote soil fertility, including the use of compost and manure.
- Only non-genetically modified yeasts are used, with some winemakers using naturally occurring yeasts from their vineyards.
- Only small amounts of sulphur dioxide, a preservative, are allowed to be used.
- Organic alcohol can only be produced in a certified facility.
What experts say about buying organic and non-organic:
Holly Vyner, general manager of Biological Farmers of Australia: "There are a lot of health issues that have been linked to pesticides in food ... and also in the environment around us. So by buying organic you're supporting producers who are caring for the environment."
Ruth Redfern, a spokeswoman for National Farmer's Federation, which represents both organic and non-organic producers said: "Australian farmers as a whole are committed to looking after their land, their animals, the environment and the people they grow their food and fibres for. All Australian food is subject to very rigorous food safety standards, whether it's organic or not.
But a spokeswoman for Food Standards Australia said consumers could feel confident about food safety. "The Australian Total Diet Study consistently finds levels of chemicals in food as it is eaten - eg cooked filleted fish, peeled cooked potatoes and apples without a core - to be well below safety limits and often."
William Churchill from AusVeg, which represents Australian organic and non-organic growers, said: "These growers who grow on commercial properties actually have a similar view of how they treat their food. They're quite proud in the quality of produce they sell to markets.
"The commercial farmers around the country have a similar emphasis that is in line with what organic growers want, which is quality produce that you can guarantee is good for you."
Choice spokeswoman Ingrid Just said the group was pushing for agreed standards.
"We think there really is an urgent need for similar Australian standard on free-range products, so that consumers are given the confidence that any product labelled as free range actually meets expectation in relation to animal husbandry standards," she said.