17jun free range eggs hero
24 October 2019

Free-range claims

Just one in five consumers feel sure free-range claims stack up.

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Thorsten S.
15 Dec 2020
grow your own eggs and get rid of wandering sailor!

I acquired my own hens about 3 years ago and they wander happily round a fenced off section of my garden in Northland, near Karori, Wellington. We get regular completely free range eggs (not so much in winter). We get a free supply of excellent manure for the veggies and citrus, etc. We have entertaining and attractive heritage hens that greet us each morning- and maybe best of all- we have a place to get rid of nearly all weeds including the non compostable wandering sailor (tradescantia), the scourge of Wellington gardens, which our chooks adore! AND we feed them the food scraps that would normally attract rats on the compost heap. It is a win-win arrangement and so easy- you only need a few square meters of space. Do consider this option!

Beverley D.
05 Dec 2021
Names and labels.

I would have liked to know the name of so called free range farms that exceed recommended number of chickens to metre or perhaps the farms who stick to recommended numbers and give their chickens lots of actual time outside.

Chris O.
11 Nov 2019
Really Free Range

I grew up on a farm where we had a small flock of chooks that roamed the paddocks, spent the day scratching up cow pats for worms and insects, and pecking grasses and seeds. They were also fed some mash mixed up with curds from left over milk from the cow. The eggs were much nicer than shop bought ones; due to their diet no doubt. Yes they had a pecking order, but the ones at the bottom were able to maintain an acceptable distance and thus not "bullied". They were kept in their run until mid-day or so when they had laid (most of!) their eggs. Anyone doing a taste test would need to include some eggs from these conditions to make a legitimate comparison.
I accept that this bears no relationship to commercial chook farming, which has to be more efficient than that. There are some farmers who run small flocks of chooks in arks that they tow around behind the tractor and release them each afternoon. These are a lot closer to actual free range. So lets only allow the term "Free Range" to be used on these chooks that actually do spent at least half their time free, roaming large new areas of fresh grass and other forage. Letting thousands of them out into the same small grass area for a short time from a fixed shed simply does not cut it. They need to be called some other more appropriate name. "Imprisoned with exercise yard" perhaps? Cheers! Chris

Neil A.
25 Oct 2019
Psychology wins!

Blind tasting tests always show that eggs and chicken meat taste the same regardless of their source (unless the chooks have been fed fishy things!).
Subjective views such as "lovely dark yellow" yolks (surely much better?) and "nice hard shells'" (surely a sign of health and well-being?) are simply the result of the feed constituents. Meat (muscle fibres) will be tender or chewy depending on the chooks' living environment. 'Organic' and 'free range' labels are purely expectations of the consumer.
I suspect very few, if any, Consumer members have ever raised chooks for either eggs or meat.
I could change the egg yolks' colour almost overnight by feeding the twenty or so chooks (hen house overnight and then grazing the paddock day time) carrot peelings and cast offs from the kitchen. Beetroot peelings produced some really strange yolk colours indeed!
Killing one of these chooks for dinner produced remarkably chewy and strong flavoured meat. Nothing like the supermarket products we are used to today.

Yet, the chooks were free ranging and fed ordinary food scraps (no meat though, chickens are omnivorous!) on top of what they foraged for in the paddock. Very organic conditions one might say.

Once you have kept 20 or more chooks you will soon discover they are quite brutal in their flocks, only the strong survive. The term 'hen-pecked' is very very real; weak chooks will be pecked to death by the others. Looking after large flocks to avoid such things takes vast spaces. (Would you live near a vast open chook farm with its noises and smelly shit production? - I think not... NIMBY)

Cheap eggs and chook meat production is the result of consumer demand for consistently shaped/coloured eggs and tender meat.
Though, one could go back to the '50s and '60s when Roast Chicken was a treat and eggs went in and out of season!

Today, consumers simply cannot understand the complexities of the mass-production systems which give them very cheap products, every day all year round.
I'd suggest that if consumers want 'real' eggs/meat/veges they go out into the country side and find growers/farmers they can talk to and see the produce in the field. They can then pay the price at the door.

It's a cop out for these people to stand in the air-conditioned supermarket and declaim that the foods on sale are not really organic or not really free-range.

Survey data:
What is the margin of error?

Your graphs show results from about 1000 people. Were these results from a survey of the 4.5 million population in NZ or from your own Consumer members?
1. How would the normal Kiwi know what number of chickens should be in a flock? - this is a silly question to ask.
2. Expectations about Free Range:
What were the respondents expectations in the first place?
3. The results speak for themselves. Respondents can clearly be lead by their noses
4. 49% seem not to be bothered about the free-range thing
5. 62% seem not be bothered about the free-range thing .

So, it seems maybe 50% of your members are not truly bothered about the Free-range/organic thing.

The rest of of the population (95% versus 5% Consumer Members?) are clearly happy with cheap, consistent eggs and meat quality. If not not sales would not be so good.

Why is so much news given to the very few who complain that chickens are not happy?
Has anyone measured a chicken's happiness? !)

Sandra H
26 Oct 2019
On the other hand...

You may not be able to measure a chicken's happiness, but you can detect when they are unhappy. All animals that live in social groups such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats and chickens have an hierarchy of dominant to least dominant. Heaven help you if you put a cow through a cow shed ahead of a more dominant animal. The reason you see chickens kill each other more frequently than horses or cattle killing each other is SPACE. Social animals require space to live harmoniously. I feel betrayed by these so called free range companies. As a child in the 1960s, chicken was a treat food except when visiting several lots of relatives who raised their own chooks. I also have family currently free range farming pigs and chooks and the reported "aggression" of these animals is non-existent as they genuinely spend their days roaming paddocks, dust bathing or mud bathing as they prefer. The houses are transportable and towed from paddock to paddock by tractor. I have also kept chooks myself and have never had one animal injured by another, let alone killed, simply because they have sufficient space. I thought free range eggs and chickens for meat were supplied by other producers like my family. I'm disgusted with the whole rip-off and have bought my last poultry or pork product until I can feel confident of an ethical animal welfare centered source.


Anne S.
09 Nov 2019

I agree Neil.
I am troubled that Consumer publishes, as apparently useful information, that people who buy “Free range” products, whatever that means, agree they taste better. Really?

Glenn B.
09 Nov 2019
defending the indefensible...

This is a classic illustration of never under-estimating mankind's ingenuity at justifying any position that happens to suit his own selfish interests.

The writer is, or pretends to be, unaware of the vast research literature assessing the happiness of chickens. Indeed, it's precisely that work which motivated the mass public reaction against battery hen farming. Having to ask that question indicates extreme laziness; failing to understand the answer indicates an extreme ethical deficiency.

Bob F.
09 May 2020
Free Range is not just about the taste

As a teenager I worked on a cage chicken farm. It opened my eyes to the tragic truth of the costs consumers (or rather producers) are prepared to make our food animals pay so we can enjoy cheap, conveniently uniform food. The only reason consumers are willing to buy such product is that they are being kept blissfully unaware of the price their food is paying for their convenience.

The principal reason I now choose free range produce is that I have a bit more confidence that the animals I eat have lived something close to a natural life.

The psychology of my doing this is akin to recognising that there are people farms in many low labour cost countries where poor "former peasant" workers are paid the lowest wages possible so that their employers can milk every last dollar out of their exploitation and then offer their produce to the "rich 1st world" consumers at prices they consider discretionary. This race to the bottom is always a zero-sum game: for one party to win another party has to lose. In Asia it is the "caged workers". In NZ it is the "caged chickens" that lose. It's more about the principle of the thing than the convenience to me.

However you look at it knowing how a caged layer lives out its life leaves a bad taste in most people's mouths that is not just about the flavour compounds in the eggs.

David C.
25 Oct 2019
The tip of a disclosure iceberg

I wonder if the food producers fully realise, or are even prepared to discuss, just how damaging to their prosperity is the behaviour of a few of their number who are slipshod, deceptive or outright liars.

Because there are producers who do these things, and there is no guaranteed assurance of good behaviour, we consumers are forced to regard all producers as suspect and not deserving of a premium price.

This is tough on the good firms, but as the days of personally knowing the provenance of our food are long gone, real consumer assurance is required - but preferably not by an ineffective bureaucracy that adds costs, such as the one that surrounds our building industry.

How do grown-ups, like the Scandinavians, address food provenance?

Brendan & Dannielle L.
25 Oct 2019
Cruel beak trimming is a factor too

I only buy the 3 brands (e.g. Frenz) that I know of that do NOT practice 'beak-trimming' (usually burning the nerve-filled tip off the beak) - it is not necessary for chickens that are not crammed in to tiny enclosures. It would be very helpful if this information was included in the table.

Chris L.
25 Oct 2019

Yes, that should definitely be included in these tables.

Marita B.
09 Nov 2019
Beak trimming

Brendan, what are the other two brands?