Eggsplainer: The Low Down On Free-Range, Cage-Free And Barn-Fresh Eggs

11/10/2015 6:07 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Our weekend pastime of eggs on toast can be fraught with choices -- free range or barn fresh? Organic or Omega 3?

If you're too chicken to buy cage eggs lest you be judged by the check-out chick, it's time to inform yourself.

There's a current Australian review into the definition free range eggs and each state and territory has slightly different definitions, so farming group Egg Farmers of Australia commissioned research to see if consumers' ideas of free range matched the realities.

The study, released Thursday, found three quarters of Australians thought free range should provide one square metre of space per hen.

Or as the group's spokesman John Coward told The Huffington Post Australia: "People want hens to have the room they need to exhibit normal behaviours like walking outside in daylight hours, flapping their wings and picking worms."

While some groups including Choice had been calling for 1500 hens per hectare, or about six square metres per hen, Coward said the group thought the consumer idea was about right.

"Hens mostly like to huddle together but I think the consumer idea of one square metre gives them room to walk away if they want."

The study also found 76 percent of free-range buyers would crack and refuse to buy them if they cost more than $5.50 for a dozen extra-large eggs.

"People get a bit nervous over $5.50," he said.

"We see eggs as an affordable protein source for families and we don't want that to change. If farmers are directed to provide too much room to comply, it's going to drive the price up."

Coward said there were four main classes of egg: cage, barn, free range and organic.

"Any other name like 'pasture roaming' is a marketing ploy," Coward said.

Submissions will be taken on what constitutes free-range eggs up until next month, with a definition expected next year.

In the meantime, the ABC has reported the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission loosely defines free-range as a farm where most birds are able to go outside on most days.

Cheat sheet

Cage eggs: In Australia, up to six hens can be kept in a cage with each hen having around an A4 sheet of paper of space within the cage.

Barn eggs: Hens are kept cage-free in an indoor barn environment.

Free range: Birds should have access to both inside and outside for much of the day. The space per hen varies on each farm as there is currently no legislated stocking densities.

Organic: Birds may have access to both inside and outside for much of the day with organic feed. The space per hen varies on each farm as there is currently no legislated stocking densities.

Source: RSPCA

This story has been changed to reflect the RSPCA's definitions of barn, cage, free range and organic eggs.

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