On 6 October the ACCC released a guide that it hopes will help egg suppliers to navigate Australian Consumer Law when deciding whether to label their products ‘free range’. The guide’s release comes on the heels of yet another ‘free range’ labelling scandal.
The ACCC made the following press release about the guide:
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released a guide to assist egg producers better understand their Australian Consumer Law (ACL) rights and obligations when promoting their products as free range.
The guide explains the ACCC’s approach to enforcing misleading conduct provisions of the ACL, in the context of free range egg claims, while the Commonwealth Treasury is consulting on whether Australia should adopt a national standard on free range egg labelling.
“The Australian Consumer Law requires that any statement or representation a business makes when advertising or selling free range eggs must not be misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
The guide outlines what the ACCC considers a free range claim. This includes using:
- the words free range on packaging or in advertising material
- words that mean the same thing as free range on packaging or in advertising material
- pictures of hens ranging freely, including in a grassy field.
“If it is not normal for most of the hens to leave the barn and to move about freely on an open range on most days, making a free range claim is likely to be misleading. This approach accords with common sense”, Mr Sims said.
“The ACCC acknowledges that laying hens may spend periods indoors and we do not expect to always see hens on the range or expect every hen to be outside every day.
“Indeed, the ACCC does not expect farmers to use a precise approach of tracking hens or head counts. A common sense approach of simply observing that the range is in regular use by a significant proportion of hens on most days is likely to be sufficient.
“On the other hand, we reject claims that it is acceptable to tell consumers that eggs are from free range hens when the outdoor range is not regularly used by the hens – whether this is the result of farming practices or for any other reason.”
The ACCC notes the law reform consultation process underway in relation to free range eggs and encourages consumers and business to contribute to this process. The ACCC will revisit this guidance following the conclusion of that process.
A copy of the ACCC’s free range guide is available online