MANNING Valley Free Range eggs is fighting a Choice campaign that brands its farms as "worse than a backpackers" on its campaign app 'CluckAR'.
Choice is Australia's leading consumer advocacy group and its campaign 'Give A Cluck About Free Range Eggs' is highlighting the issue of farm stocking densities and the absence of a national standard for free range eggs. A national standard is currently in development but Choice argues the "proposed information standard allows egg producers stocking at 10,000 hens per hectare to call themselves free range ... and it does not require that chickens are outdoors."
Earlier this month Choice announced that it had "launched a free augmented reality app to help shoppers avoid dodgy free range eggs in the supermarket."
Manning Valley Free Range Eggs is identified by Choice as one of Australia's largest producers of free range eggs, and in its report 'Free Range Eggs: Making The Claim Meaningful' is states that "Pace Farms, Manning Valley and Farm Pride - three of the four largest egg producers - accounted for 30.7 per cent of the number of free range eggs sold in Australia in 2014. All these producers sell their free range eggs at a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare."
The June 2015 report is the foundation on which Choice has built its 'Give A Cluck About Free Range Eggs' campaign and it is attracting significant support on social media with the launch of the new 'CluckAR' app and its online petition has more than 17,000 signatories at the time of going to print.
According to Choice, the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (the Model Code) states that free range eggs should be produced by hens who have access to an outdoor area during daylight hours for a minimum of eight hours per day, shaded areas and shelter from rain and windbreaks and that there is a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare.
Choice places Manning Valley Free Range Eggs with Pace Farm, Farm Pride, Woolworths and Coles as producers with 10,000 hens per hectare.
Owner Peter Matuszny requested the Manning River Times refer to a statement on its website for comment about the content of the Choice report. In part the statement describes the Choice report as "misleading" and says it "makes several inaccurate statements about Manning Valley's free range practices and stocking densities." It also states the family wasn't "contacted by Choice before releasing the article to confirm stocking densities".
"Choice's article says that Manning Valley has a stocking density of 10,000 birds per hectare. In reality, most of our farms carry around 2500 to 6000 birds per hectare.
"Our website makes clear that 10,000 birds is a maximum density, and on average we run around 5000.
"The focus on a pure 'birds per hectare' quota also has a tendency to ignore other features which make up a good free range farm. Stocking densities depend on the farm's climate, environmental aspects, sustainable farming practises including rotation of the paddocks and its ability to grow grass.
"Choice's article does not address these impacts, or point to any studies on appropriate free range stocking densities.
"For over 30 years, the Matuszny family has cultivated its free range egg farming methods.
"We've worked hard towards creating sustainable farming practises that not only protect the welfare of the birds, but aim to rejuvenate the land and surrounding environment.
"At the moment there is no legislation for free range egg production, only a voluntary code providing for '1500 birds per hectare, unless rotation of paddocks takes place'. There is little guidance around the effects of rotation on the code's density recommendation that in our view, leads to much of the confusion surrounding free range egg production.
"On that front, we agree that we need to nut out a free range standard for Australia, so that we can all have greater clarity on production standards, and most importantly, ensure all free range birds are looked after."
MANNING Valley Free Range Eggs has five properties and promotes a 'free range cam' to provide public access to its farms.
Three of the farms are located in the Manning Valley, one in the Hunter Valley and one in the Liverpool Plains.
According to its business website, the Manning Valley properties are at The Bulga, Angus Stone and Cedar Party.
o The Angus Stone site is 100 acres.
o The Cedar Party site is 200 acres.
o The Bulga site is 90 acres.
Manning Valley Free Range Eggs informs visitors to the website that the 'free range cam' "shows the pasture on different Manning Valley Free Range Eggs farms at different times. Our birds can roam freely between the shed and the pasture. At any time a number of birds will be inside the shed, so you won't see them on the camera. Each farm has different numbers of birds on it. None of our farms have a bird density of greater than 1 bird/metre2."
The Manning River Times visited the website to view the 'free range cam' at various times on Tuesday and Wednesday this week and noted the message, 'This camera is currently offline due to wet weather. Thank you.' The website provided edited footage from the webcam.
Australia's leading consumer advocacy group, Choice cited the Manning Valley free range cam as an example when it issued a media release on March 2 titled, 'Choice says we need to turn the chook-cam on bogus free-range marketing tactics'. Choice also provided an image of a FarmPride webcam.
In its statement, Choice CEO Alan Kirkland said, "Chook-cams can be particularly insidious - they imply that companies are doing the right thing by letting consumers see into the farm but it's not hard to find examples of edited footage or very limited camera coverage."
CLUCKAR is an augmented reality app designed to "help shoppers avoid dodgy free range eggs in the supermarket", according to Choice, Australia's leading consumer advocacy group.
Choice stated the app "gives power back to consumers, helping them navigate the free range egg market. By scanning a free range egg carton, consumers can quickly see which eggs live up to the free range claim.
"Choice has done the research so we know which eggs are fair dinkum. All you need to do is download the free app for iPhone or Android, point your phone camera at the label and let the 3D chooks tell the story."
Multiple scans of a carton of Manning Valley Free Range Eggs informs consumers that 'This product fails the Choice free range test' and differing image banners that include 'barely room to swing a chook', 'fer clucksake', 'yeah nah mate' and '#fail'.
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