Last month, the Queensland Government passed legislation that allowed an increase in ‘free-range’ chicken stock densities from 1500 birds per ha to 10,000 per ha. This is an increase of 667%!!! Whilst I am incredibly frustrated at this backwards step, I channelled this frustration into further research. It is so important to understand where your eggs come from, not only to ensure the welfare of the animal, but for the health and wellbeing of your family. That’s right, your free-range purchase may be damaging your health!
The current ‘Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals’ states that “domestic poultry allows for a maximum of 1500 free-range chickens per hectare”. However, these guidelines aren’t enforced anywhere in Australia and a number of big players are doing their own thing:
- According to a report produced by the ABC, a number of eastern states free-range egg producers have been known to produce 20,000 and even 40,000 birds per hectare.
- Coles “Free-Range” egg standard is 10,000 chickens per hectare.
- RSPCA approved free-range set their standards at 1500-2500. However they approve the process of beek trimming (see below).
- Australian Certified Organic “free-range” sets the number of 1,000 per ha.
As you can see, what we thought was simply a matter of a few chooks roaming the countryside, the term “free-range” is actually open to interpretation. As a result, true-free-range egg farmers are struggling to compete against the big players that are bending the rules and producing so called ‘free-range’ eggs at lower costs to the consumer.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there. With lack of Australian standards for ‘free-range’ chicken and egg production, a number of inhumane acts on the chickens are still being carried out. These include:
- Beak Trimming: Cannibalism and feather pecking can be devastating in large free-range flocks that are closely confined. To curb the problem, beaks of day-old chicks are trimmed with infrared laser. The RSPCA acknowledges this practice may be necessary in large flocks and Coles allows for it, also. Hens that undergo this process can no longer forage for their natural food outdoors and as such are fed a diet formulated by humans.
- Induced moulting: Otherwise known as forced moulting, induced moulting is the practice by the commercial egg industry of artificially provoking a complete flock of hens to moult simultaneously. This is usually achieved by withdrawal of feed for 7-14 days. During the moulting period, the hens go out of production for a period of at least two weeks. This has the effect of allowing the hen’s reproductive tracts to regress and rejuvenate. After a moult, the hen’s production rate usually peaks slightly below the previous peak rate and egg quality is improved. The point of moulting is thus to increase the production, egg quality, and profitability of flocks in their second or third laying seasons.
- Restricted Outdoor Access: Hens have some access to outdoor areas. Unfortunately the amount, duration or quality of that outdoor area is not regulated. This means only a small percentage of hens living in these circumstances are free to roam in dry, barren, dirt lots rather than regular fields. Those who don’t make it outdoors live under artificial light.
- Unnatural Diet: The hen’s diet is not regulated and they can be fed a diet comprising of genetically modified grains or animal by-products. This feed can also contain herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. The farm may also promote the use of antibiotics. There is evidence to suggest this will affect the quality of the egg being produced (see below).
So what should you buy?
When purchasing eggs (and any meat for that matter), I will ONLY buy Organic Pasture-Fed. Organic Pasture-Fed hens are free to roam on fresh pasture where they can forage for their natural diet or seeds, green plants, insects and worms. There are no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, GM ingredients or animal by-products in their diet. Beak trimming, wing clipping, toe trimming or any other mutilations are not permitted. Direct sunlight received by Pasture Fed hens also naturally boosts nutrients and egg production.
How will I know they truly really pasture fed?
Look for the Human Choice logo. Humane Choice True Free Range is a whole of farm accreditation system for Australian and New Zealand true free range, pasture raised pork, beef, lamb, chicken and egg producers
Farmer’s Markets, Fruit & Veg Stores, local Butchers and independent Grocers are far more likely to stock free range pastured eggs.
For a comparison of all producers and their claims to free-range, you can search for your brand at ‘Animal Welfare Labels‘ .
If I don’t opt for pasture fed, how will this affect my health?
Recent studies have revealed that true free-range pasture fed eggs contain:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more Omega-3s
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene than conventionally farmed eggs.
The most alarming results lie in the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio of the various varieties of eggs. Deemed safe for human consumption, is the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 of 1:4. Anything higher has been linked to cancer growth and cell mutation within the human body. Organic pasture fed eggs from hens that graze on their natural diet held a ratio of 1:1. Eggs laid by conventional chickens were recorded at 1:19! Choose pasture-fed!! Not only are they naturally richer in colour, vitamins and nutrients, they taste a whole lot better too!
To sign the petition to re-instate QLD’s existing free-range status of 1500 hens per hectate: http://choice.good.do/save-free-range-in-qld/. PLEASE NOTE: The RSPCA claims they were never “formally consulted” over the increase.
Please share this article via the links below to help spread the word and improve the quality of life of these little creatures. Knowledge is power and together we can bring about change.
- Studies on the Composition of Food, The chemical composition of eggs produced under battery, deep litter and free-range conditions
- An overview of the Salmonella entireties risk assessment for shell eggs and egg products
- Transfer of soy isoflavone into the egg yolk of chickens.
- How Free-Range are your Eggs? theage.com.au
- Eat Eggs and Have Chickens Too