typing is not activism….

environ mentalism, fresh articles, interviews & checkitouts from Sydney.

News Ltd’s free-range war on accurate coverage.

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News.com.au, The Australian, and their regional subsidiaries are currently carrying – or miscarrying – a story about free-range eggs. They all seem keen to emphasize that free-range eggs are a stale rip-off on a grand scale, and that the survey which has concluded as much is objective. The survey by consumer group Choice may well be ‘objective’ (whatever one may think of the value or merits of its assessment criteria), but it certainly doesn’t reflect the conclusions being loudly proclaimed by big, clumsy media.

Free-range Eggs Not Fresh! &

CONSUMERS who fork out more for free-range eggs have been warned that over a third are officially stale on an international freshness scale.

proclaims The Australian. This assertion, by writer Tamara McLean, has of course been reprinted at News.com.au, Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, and likely the West Australian, Daily Telegraph, and other News Ltd (very) outlets across Australia. Even though it is uncredited, the article lifted from AAP and carried by Yahoo News! seems also to be McLean’s.

Strangely enough, Nathan Dukes at The Canberra Times and Daniella Miletic at Fairfax, when presented with the same survey by Choice, managed to get the story right. They focussed not only on the survey outcomes, but on the key issue relevant to the survey – that the definition of “free range” as it applies to Australian eggs, and consequently the hundreds of thousands of Australian chickens which produce them, is not only weak relative to European standards but cloudy in terms of Australian regulation and value to the consumer.

Choice clearly state that

We tested more than 650 eggs (all production systems) [ed: emphasis added], using an internationally recognised measure of egg freshness and quality called a Haugh unit (see How we tested, below).

There are no prescribed Australian standards but the US standard classifies eggs under 60 Haugh units as ‘weak and watery’ and we used this as our benchmark for freshness.

Of all the eggs we tested, 36 percent had Haugh units below 60…

This clearly states that looking at 650 samples of all types of eggs, 36% were found to be lacking in terms of freshness and quality. Tamara McLean, with the blessings of her editor, has managed to reinterpret this to mean:

A test of 650 free-range eggs by consumer group Choice returned a fail grade for 36 per cent of the products, branding them “weak and watery”.

Although she eventually states that regulation and standards are somewhat lacking or even voluntary in Australia, the News Ltd articles mainly feature cherry-picked quotes relating to the potential shortcomings of free-range eggs:

“Well over half the hens described as free-range are housed in huge sheds, may never go outside and their eggs may come off conveyor belts,” Mr Zinn [ed: Choice spokesman] said.

“If you’re buying free-range eggs because you believe in animal welfare, the brands in the big supermarkets may not be meeting your expectations.”

Ms McLean and Mr. Zinn aren’t trying to scare away your ethically spent dollar, but think it’s important for you to know that:

“[O]n average we found no significant differences between the freshness of barn-laid, cage and free-range eggs.”

Looking at the actual results, it would seem that Choice, if anything, has found that Pace Farms produce consistently mediocre eggs. Furthermore, only 7 of the 30 brands tested scored a 0-fail rate. 4 of these completely succesful brands –

  • BOOST VEGETARIAN Cage (Brisbane)
  • ESSENTIAL FOODS Free-Range (Melbourne)
  • FAMILY HOMESTEAD Free-Range (Melbourne)
  • FIELD FRESH Free-Range (Sydney)
  • GOLDEN EGGS Barn-Laid (Perth)
  • NATURE’S BEST Free-Range (Sydney)
  • SUNNY QUEEN FARMS Barn-Laid (Brisbane)

were produced by Free-range methodology. Which, if anything, should produce an article with, perhaps, a ringing endorsement for free-range production methods. Despite the definite need for more rigorous regulation, definition, and enforcement, the methodology could easily be framed as at least 4 times more reliable than caged egg production… if the journalist or their master was inclined to do so.

Ever-reliable in such matters, The World Today has gone right past the fluff and got stuck into the heart of the matter:

JOHN STEWART: In the past animal welfare groups have waged successful campaigns, turning consumers against the tuna and pork industries. But it seems that chickens don’t have the same appeal as dolphins caught in fishing nets or images of bloated pigs and ham sandwiches.

But the signs are there that if free-range eggs do become cheaper, moral concerns for animal welfare may be less constrained by the hip pocket.

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Written by typingisnotactivism

July 1, 2008 at 4:21 pm

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