Free Range Hens: What will “Meaningful” Mean to Them?

RSPCA Australia says today’s definition of a new free-range egg standard by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs may have been a waste of time.

RSPCA Australia’s Senior Policy Officer, Dr Jed Goodfellow, said the announcement of the Information Standard, requiring hens to have ‘meaningful and regular access’ to the outdoors, with a stocking rate of up to 10,000 hens per hectare, failed to provide the animal welfare assurances consumers were seeking.

 “RSPCA Australia believes free range hens should be stocked at a maximum rate of 1,500 hens per hectare or up to 2,500 if a regular rotation system is in place.

“Free-range eggs should come from hens who actually go outside. The definition of ‘meaningful and regular access’ to the range is absolutely critical to the integrity of the Information Standard.

“The flock size, stocking densities inside and outside, layout of the barn, and the number of openings are all crucial to determining whether hens have ‘meaningful and regular access’. The conditions of the range, including whether shelter is provided, also play a critical role. If Consumer Affairs Ministers don’t get this right, we will be back to square one.

“In genuine free-range farms, all hens are able to access an outdoor range where they feel safe and protected and can express essential behaviours such as dust bathing and foraging. Inside, they are able to perch and lay their eggs in a nest.

“It’s important to note that none of these conditions are afforded to the 11 million hens currently confined to battery cages around the country. These hens suffer intensely and continuously throughout their lives. Consumers choose free range to avoid cages, and they deserve a standard they can have full confidence in.

 “Today’s decision puts the interests of big business ahead of consumers, with hen welfare coming a distant third.

“Consumer Affairs Ministers must ensure that ‘meaningful’ access actually means something to the hen or else all of this has been a monumental waste of time,” Dr Goodfellow said.