In a survey conducted by SAFE, 8 out of 10 New Zealanders said that they cared about buying free range eggs. As more information comes to light about the horrors of battery farming, it's not surprising that the majority of us like to know that the eggs we’re eating come from happy, healthy chickens that are free to roam outdoors as opposed to living their lives in pungent, claustrophobic cages. Unfortunately, SAFE estimates that 88% of the eggs produced in NZ are caged. So how can New Zealanders that care make sure the eggs they’re eating really are free range?
Happy, healthy hens living large on a Frenz free range farm.
The difficulty in New Zealand is that there is no enforceable industry standard for free-range farming. In 2012, the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare was introduced, and laid down some industry guidelines for the welfare of layer hens. However, the Code is not currently legally enforceable. Farms are regularly audited by the Ministry of Primary Industries for food safety standards, but these standards do not relate to auditing free-range farming practices (despite farms often implying that they do).
What this means is that the scope of a “free range” label on your eggs is actually very wide. Despite evoking ideas of happy chickens wandering in a field, the label “free range” can still be used by farms that confine their hens to small spaces or subject them to overcrowding, trim their beaks and dye their food (to make the yolks appear more yellow). In 2014, it came to light that a farmer had been selling cage eggs as "free range" for over two years - something that slipped under the radar because there was no authority checking such claims.
To avoid these things we recommend looking for a third party standard, such as organic certification. For example, if a poultry farmer opts to attain BioGro or AsureQuality certification, certain standards of how the hens are looked after and their quality of life are guaranteed.
To attain AsureQuality certification, poultry cannot be kept in cages. They must have access to open-air runs, and the barns cannot house more than 6 birds per square metre. The barns, in total, may not house more than 1500 laying hens. The outdoor stocking rate maximum is 850 hens per hectare. To attain BioGro certification, farms must not house more than 5 hens per square metre of deep litter floor place. Again, hens must have unrestricted access to outside runs, and if the run area is restricted, access to fresh pasture must be provided through a controlled rotation. The outdoor stocking rate must not exceed 833 hens per hectare.
Of course, organic certification also ensures that the farms are spray-free and the feed 100% organic. In this way, organic certification ensures happy, healthy chickens with a good quality of life – something that the label “free-range” alone does not guarantee.
At Commonsense Organics, we are proud to only stock certified organic, free-range eggs. They currently come from two suppliers; Pasture Poultry and Frenz. Pasture Poultry hens spend their days roaming the paddocks, and lay in houses named after royal residences including Balmoral and Clarence House. Frenz collects eggs from a network of sustainably farmed, locally owned farms that all allow their hens to roam freely outside, with access of plants and insect sources. The chickens on these farms are genuinely free range – they spend their lives happily scratching in green fields.
Frenz makes sure their hens have unlimited access to the outdoors and plenty of space to scratch for insects. Thanks to Frenz for providing the pictures!