Battery-farm laying techniques may not be as consumer friendly — or carry the greenish tinge — of “free range” eggs, but now some battery egg producers are giving their cartons a green sheen so dazzling, it threatens to blind consumers to the nature of their egg-laying process.
One egg product widely available in Australian shops and supermarkets struck Crikey as being particularly confusing.
The producer in question — Wattle Ridge eggs — markets its cage-laid eggs as “the environmental egg” thanks to a tree planting and water recycling program at the battery farms.
As the Wattle Ridge website says: “Congratulations on your purchase of the egg that isn’t just good for you but good for the planet”.
How is a cage laid egg “good for the planet”? Because at Wattle Ridge “you are contributing to these important environmental factors”:
- “supporting a completely renewable resource
- completely biodegradeable and environmentally sound packaging
- a massive tree planting program, 14,000 trees so far
- recycled water through our water treatment plant
- a recycling program turning chickens waste into compost to fertilise the trees and surrounding farming land and add vital nutrients to depleted soils.”
The eggs? Laid in cages, but that isn’t mentioned.
Jacqueline Baptisa, the communications manager for the Australian Egg Corporation Limited — a self-regulatory body made up of agricultural and chicken production companies — doesn’t see any problems in how eggs are marketed by existing members.
“Our labelling laws require all labels be present on packaging clearly saying how the eggs are produced,” she said. “Individual brand marketing is up to the producer”.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has no legislation in place to stop egg producers from devising boundary testing packaging or indeed directly influence labelling on their product at all.
Katrina Sharman, a counsel for Voiceless — an animal protection think-tank, said that egg producers are to be commended for the measures they have taken so far in curtailing cruel egg laying production methods, but expressed dismay at language and retailing initiatives being used to market some brands, saying it could easily “mislead.”
“Unfortunately this is typical of a system in which labelling of animal-derived food products is not mandatory,” she said.
“Consumers are not being provided with the information they need to make informed choices. The introduction of mandatory animal-derived labelling would go some way towards empowering consumers in this regard.”
An ACCC spokeswoman said that while there are stringent labelling requirements in place for consumer products in general, there was nothing dealing specifically with how eggs are labelled or how labelling is applied to egg packaging.
However, she said any cynical exploitation of perceived loopholes in regulations flirts precariously with general product labelling guidelines.
“Any product must adhere to section 52 of the Trades practices act, which requires that any extraneous packaging does not mislead or misrepresent the labelling in accordance to a reasonable viewpoint,” she said.
Currently, it is only a requirement in law to label eggs in the ACT and Tasmania. For the rest of Australia, the industry is self-regulated by industry bodies like the AECL.
Crikey obtained the AECL egg labelling guidelines and turned up the three egg labelling categories:
Cage Systems: Birds in cage systems are continuously housed in cages within a shed.
Barn Systems: Birds in barn systems are free to roam within a shed which may have vertical levels. The floor may be based on litter and/or other material such as slats or wire mesh.
Free Range Systems: Birds in free-range systems are housed in sheds and have access to an outdoor range.
Wattle Ridge declined to comment to Crikey about its marketing strategy.