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ACCC defines 'free range' for consumers

25 Sep, 2014 07:42 AM
Chairman of the ACCC Rod Sims. Photo: Chris Pearce
The court has now established what a reasonable consumer would think free range means
Chairman of the ACCC Rod Sims. Photo: Chris Pearce

ONE of the biggest egg producers has misled consumers, trying to pass off product as free range when their hens were housed in crowded barns, the ­Federal Court has found.

The court has slapped Pirovic ­Enterprises with a $300,000 fine and ordered the company to contribute to the legal costs of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

It is the first time a court has defined what constitutes a free-range claim and ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the ­findings would have repercussions across the food industry.

"Whether it's free-range ham, pork or bacon, the court has now established what a reasonable consumer would think free range means," Mr Sims said.

"That has implications for anyone using that term in relation to animals and animal products."

Mr Sims said the Pirovic case was part of a broader ACCC investigation into free-range claims in the chicken industry and false labelling was a ­widespread problem.

He said the ACCC would soon take legal action against several more egg processors, some of which were big companies.

About 40 per cent of eggs sold in ­Australia are free range, but Mr Sims said it was difficult to determine what proportion were not genuine.

"But our concern is a lot of them have not been reaching the appropriate standard."

Pirovic had used egg cartons which included the words "free range" and images of hens on open pasture.

But the Court found most of the eggs ­supplied by Pirovic were produced by hens which did not move about on an open range on most days and were instead housed in crowded barns.

Mr Sims said credence claims such as "free range" were "powerful tools for businesses to distinguish ­their products".

"However, if they are false or ­misleading, they serve to mislead ­consumers, who may pay a premium to purchase such products."

The ACCC and Pirovic had agreed on joint submissions and proposed orders to be put to the Court for consideration, an ACCC spokeswoman said.

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About damn time!  I am pleased about a common sense answer.

Not really convinced there is a clear definition even now. Can someone tell me where I can find specific conditions which need to be present for 'free range' to legally apply?

No. The producers will find a way around it eventually but it's a step forward.

They could provide "free range" that had absolutely no quality to it at all. A dust bowl.

I heard the word "pastured" bandied about the other week. Again it brings up mental images of chickens frolicking in gorgeous green pasture which ultimately wouldn't be the case, but again it's a step forward in the right direction.

How to word this?... my girls are free range (in terms of metres in their huge cage) and get to free range when dad can make sure they aren't destroying the entire garden!  LOL. 

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