In a survey conducted by SAFE, 8 out of 10 New Zealanders said that they cared about buying free range eggs. The average Kiwi eats about 200 eggs per year (in total, there are around 3 billion eggs eaten in NZ each year), so 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 that the eggs they’re eating really are free range?
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 standards for the welfare of layer hens. However, the Code is more of a guideline than a set of rules; they are 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 practises (despite farms often implying that they do).
What this means is that often eggs labelled “free-range”, despite evoking ideas of happy chickens wandering in a field, can still come from farms where hens are not allowed outdoors or to behave naturally, have their beaks trimmed to prevent pecking (hens peck each other when stressed or unhappy) and their food dyed so that their yolks appear more vibrant. Obviously when someone is making the effort to buy free-range, these are not the farms that they want to be supporting.
The best way to make sure that the eggs you’re buying truly are free-range is to look for some sort of organic certification, such as BioGro Organic Certification.  If a farmer opts to attain BioGro certification, this ensures that all the hens have access to outdoor runs, that their beaks are not trimmed, their food is not dyed, and that the barns may have not any more than five hens per square metre of dense litter. Of course, it also ensures that the fields used are spray-free and the feed 100% organic. In this way, the BioGro label 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 from two suppliers; Frenz and Pasture Poultry. Frenz, for example, is BioGro certified and 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. Their chickens are genuinely free range – they spend their lives happily scratching in green fields.