FREE RANGE THINKING

By September 19, 2011Produce

Q: What does a chef’s hat have to do with cooking an egg?

An increased awareness of social and environmental responsibility is influencing consumer choices and nowhere is this more apparent than with the humble egg. Patrons look for organic or free-range eggs on the menu, but with only voluntary standards for eggs production in Australia, how do we really know what we are serving up?

This question made the headlines again last week when the Australian Egg Corporation released their first ever definition of what it means to be classified as ‘free range’. Under this definition producers are still allowed to trim beaks and keep up to 20,000 birds a hectare, an intense farming situation which the Humane Society predicts will not meet “consumer expectations for how free range eggs are produced.” The current (voluntary) standards advise no more than 1500 per hectare.

Many Australians willingly pay a premium for free range eggs believing that ‘free range’ describes vast open farm yards dotted with ‘au naturel’ happy hens. The reality is entirely different, with any number of ‘free range’ egg producers practicing high density farming and beak trimming. If you really want to know about the life of the chicken before the egg, check the accreditation. The major associations have their criteria are on their website.

So what do all the catchphrases really mean?

  • Organic- certified organic farms where hens eat only certified organic feed, roam free, have outdoor access and are treated humanely (i.e. no beak trimming, wing clipping etc)
  • Organic Grain Fed- hens fed organic grain but are not necessarily free range or humanely treated
  • Barn Laid- alternative free range system where chooks roam free around a large barn. No outdoor access  but have nesting boxes, perches and access to food and drink. Density of numbers depend on the farmer and type of accreditation
  • Free-Range- hens roam free and have some form of access to a sheltered outdoor area during daylight hours. Amount of outdoor access and density of population varies (the Egg Corporation has admitted some accredited farms can have up to 40,000 birds per hectare- 4 a square metre).
  • Cage/Battery- accounts for approx 75-80% of egg sales in Australia. Hens are kept in cages continuously under conditions that increase production

Simon George & Sons sources two of the best ‘feel good, taste good eggs’, with Barn laid eggs from Llandilo Farm Fresh and Delucas Certified Organic eggs.

 A: The chef’s toque is said to have a pleat for each of the ways you can cook an egg.  With 100 pleats, you’d better get cracking.

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