Not Very Free Range Eggs

I’ve bought Glenpark Woodland free range eggs for years. They weren’t the most expensive free range eggs out there, but I assumed that was because they were non-organic. They were certainly more expensive than Pams free range eggs, and seemed a bit more reliably free range.

Turns out, I’m a sucker for good marketing.

My mother asked me the other day what the best brand of free range eggs were, and I had to admit (yet again) that I didn’t know. But I was determined to find out, and spent precious Nap Time and a further evening trawling through company profiles and advertising slogans. When the dust settled, it became clear that neither are Glenpark Woodland eggs what I would call free range, they’re also not a company I would ever want to support.

To start with, the Glenpark brand is owned by Mainland Poultry. Yup, the company that owns the largest battery hen sheds in the country, and is responsible for what in my eyes amounts to animal welfare abuses in the photos below.

Chicken from Mainland Poultry farm

Hen from Mainland Poultry farm

Mainland Poultry battery cages

Mainland Poultry is a company that is fine with hens being raised in battery cages, so its free range brand is about cash, not ethics. It’s no accident that their “free range” eggs are marketed under a completely different name – most customers who buy free range do so precisely because they want nothing to do with battery farming. Unsurprisingly, Mainland have tried hard to cover their tracks. Woodland Eggs are a Glenpark brand, which is run by the Natural Chicken Company, which is owned by Mainland Poultry. Even Dunedin chef Joanne Bain – and chefs normally have very good networks of suppliers and producers – found it difficult to establish where exactly the Woodland eggs were coming from.

Despite the fact that Mainland Poultry have set up a separate brand in order to capture the free range corner of the market, Glenpark Woodland eggs are not what I would describe as free range. When I imagine free range egg farms, I think of something very much like what the Woodland website describes:

From hens free to roam in the natural shelter of trees.

Woodland’s premium eggs are more than ordinary free range eggs. They are produced by hens which spend their days exploring, foraging and dust bathing under the shade and security of their own woodland environment. Situated in New Zealand’s beautiful South Island, the Glenpark Free Range Farm is 24 hectares of pasture, dotted with hundreds of evergreen and deciduous trees. It is from this idyllic environment that your Woodland free range eggs are gathered daily and distributed around New Zealand and overseas.

It’s a very pretty image, but it’s not quite the truth.

Consumer organisation says,

Minimum standards for free-range egg production are set in the code of welfare for layer hens… It sets maximum indoor stocking densities for free-range production (10 birds per m²) but there are no rules prescribing the size of the outdoor range area or maximum flock numbers.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine ten hens to a square metre when I think of free range hens. The reality of this high density free range farming is more like this:

Free range hens

Than this:

Image from Woodland eggs website

Woodland eggs come from a flock of 8,000 hens. That’s less than some companies like Otaika Poultry Farm, who have 21,000 hens (the mind boggles) but it’s still a huge number of animals. Hamish Sutherland, Mainland Poultry’s general manager, admits that some hens will never set foot outdoors. FRENZ free range chicken farmer Rob Darby alleges that around 70% of Woodland hens will never set foot outdoors. And SPCA chief executive Robyn McDonald seems to agree:

Many free-range hens are in barns all their lives, eating only grain. Consumers are being cheated if they think every (free-range) egg is equal – they certainly aren’t going to get the beneficial flavours and colour of yolk from the big flocks… Many big producers keep thousands of birds in one barn, with just a tiny exit at one end, and aggressive birds tend to “guard” the door.

While it’s good for the SPCA to confirm the facts, I wish they’d do more than pay lip service to the principles of free range farming and stand up for the animals they purport to protect. The SPCA’s standards for meeting their seal of approval allow for debeaking chicks and for up to 4,000 birds per barn. Debeaking is to prevent cannibalism, which results from stressed-out birds. But I have a hunch that if the birds were kept in smaller flock sizes, with greater access to the outdoors, a more natural outdoor environment, food source and lifestyle – they wouldn’t be aggressive, and they wouldn’t need to be debeaked.

The final nail in the coffin for my customer-of-Woodland-eggs days is the fact that they dye their chicken feed with beta carotene in order to produce eggs with bright orangey-yellow yolks. It’s true that I associate a bright yellow yolk with a chicken that has been well raised and grass fed, rather than the insipid pale yolks of battery hens. Artificially colouring the yolks is cheating, plain and simple. If your hens aren’t actually foraging in grass, at least be honest to your customers and stop pretending that they are.

So whose eggs can you trust?

- Any free range eggs are better than battery laid eggs

- Sunset free range eggs are from a company which does not also own battery hens. They are SPCA approved which means the flock is no larger than 4,000 hens – but beak blunting is still allowed.

- Eggs which have been certified by AsureQuality Organic are in my opinion the best. These include FRENZ Organic Eggs and Pasture Poultry Organic. Bio Eggs are also AsureQuality certified, although the same company also produces a barn-laid egg range. While AsureQuality standards are still not the idyllic conditions described by Woodland eggs, they are a much better start. The AsureQuality standards include:

  • A maximum flock number of 1,500
  • No beak blunting
  • A minimum of 4m per 100 square metres of barn of “pop holes”
  • Birds must be fed mostly (but not necessarily exclusively) organic food
  • A maximum indoor stocking density of 6 birds per square metre of deep litter space
  • A maximum outdoor stocking density of 850 laying hens per hectare (350 per acre)

AsureQuality says,

Poultry must have access to an open-air run whenever weather conditions permit and, whenever possible must have such access for at least one third of their life. These open-air runs must be mainly covered with vegetation, be provided with protective facilities, and permit birds to have easy access to adequate numbers of drinking and feeding troughs.

You can read the rest of their poultry standards here.

From a personal perspective, our family has switched to FRENZ Organic Eggs. While not all their eggs are organic, and therefore not able to be certified by AsureQuality, the company claims that all their hens are raised in accordance with the organic standards in terms of living space and outdoor access. They don’t produce any non-free-range eggs. The hens are not debeaked and the eggs are not dyed with beta carotene. Their website has a nifty feature where you can track the flock by the code on the box. The boxes are 100% recyclable, biodegradable and made in New Zealand. If the hens are fed uncertified organic food instead of 100% Certified Organic, the 100% Certified Organic label is removed from the box. In all my digging I’m yet to hear anything untoward about the FRENZ label, other than a cheeky predilection for harassing other egg companies about their standards.

You could say, I’m sold.

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108 thoughts on “Not Very Free Range Eggs

  1. Hi there,

    My name is Pauline from The Willows Organic Farm Ltd, and Pasture Poultry organic free-range eggs are our brand. We have been marketing organic free-range eggs for 20 years and with that experience I just wanted to make a couple of comments on your story about free-range egg production.

    1. Because we grow and manufacture our own poultry feed at The Willows Organic Farm NO COLOUR ENHANCER is added, meaning that the yolk colour is totally natural. This is because our hens have unlimited access to fresh green pasture – check out our website – http://www.pasturepoultry.co.nz. Our farm is 300 acres so unlimited free-range access is exactly that! Even under certified organic rules a natural colour enhancer is allowed, and I understand organic feed manufacturers use these. The egg yolk colour of Pasture Poultry Organic Free-Range eggs is a bright yellow, rather than a consistent yellow/orange colour. Sometimes there may be an egg with a pale yolk. This in no way alters the flavour or nutritional value of the egg. Hens are individual beings and do not automatically produce exactly the same colour egg yolk each time as all other hens, but when a colour enhancer is added to the feed mix this ensures that consistency of colour. As you commented, bright orange yolks does not necessarily mean that the hens are free-ranging!

    2. The Willows Organic Farm do not market any other eggs other than organic free-range eggs. Our philosophy is very firm on that. As you pointed out, many egg producers have come on board to supply a range of eggs from different production regimes, perhaps because of a marketing tool. As has been seen in the past, both in New Zealand and other countries, this can have negative outcomes.

    3. My understanding is that the SPCA regulations for egg production does not include a specified outdoor free-range area, whereas organic certification rules do specify an area, as mentioned in your story.

    4. If a consumer wants to be sure that the eggs they purchase are produced from a certified organic poultry farm then that is the guarantee that the eggs are GENUINE FREE-RANGE.

    Thank you.
    Pauline
    PASTURE POULTRY ORGANIC FREE-RANGE EGGS

    • Hi Pauline. I just wanted to say thanks. I’ve been buying your eggs for years just because they seemed like the most honestly free range eggs on the market. They’re great eggs! Cheers, Vanessa

    • O.k, I am shocked by this because this is the brand I buy. Im someone who is starting to become concerned with what Im eating and how my food is made.
      Im a graphic designer/videographer,r who after reading this article decided to make an ‘anti ad’ about Woodland eggs and would love to gift this to you and your site.
      Alas cannot find a way of uploading photos…..

      • Hi Peter, not sure if this was directed at me or Pauline. In case it was for me – thanks very much. However I am no longer actively writing this blog, I am not sure where the sudden attention on this post has come from but it was written in October last year.

  2. Thanks so much for this information. It’s unbelievable that these companies do everything they can to use the word “free-range” to describe something that so obviously is NOT.

  3. I’ve filmed on location at the Frenz farm in south Auckland and have seen the great environment the hens are raised in. I couldn’t agree more that the farm is humane and chickens look happy running around outdoors.

    • Cathy I was just going to say the same thing! How lovely was that farm??? And the owner Rob had his pet hen called Lucky that lived with the rest, but he could pick her out a mile away. Never seen a man care so much about his hens!

      Unfortunately I bought Woodland eggs today. Might not do that again!

  4. FRENZ eggs supplement their stock with eggs bought from west-auckland farmers, according to said west auckland farmers. You have no idea what kind of conditions the eggs come from or how old they are.

  5. A question after reading your article (thank you): What is the difference between FRENZ and FRENZS? I noticed that they have both of these brands at the supermarket. . .

  6. thanks for that i to use woodland eggs but never again shame the rest are so expensive but if we got rid of disgusting battery eggs surely the price would come down….shame on all you farmers that treat yours animals with no respect and i am talking about pigs cows and sheep as well.

    • You must be kidding.That reasoning is absurd. Cage eggs were recently banned in Europe in favour of colony cages and the result was supermarket egg stocks dwindled and the price doubled and liquid egg product up 85 %.Thats because farmers either did not have the money to invest in new systems or were not prepared to change to change to free range.That same scenario would be repeated here in NZ.
      Farmers have cage hens because it is the most wholesome way to produce eggs with the least amount of stress to birds.
      Free range systems require birds and their housing to be treated with insecticides to combat fleas ,blood sucking red mite ,lice ,anthelmintecs to combat intestinal worms, antibiotics and coccidiostats to treat disease as they are more prone to problems from eating their own faeces and dirty water from puddles,subject to attacks from predators such as ferrets and hawks,large lumps of dirt and shit on their feet that need removing not to mention the dirty eggs that need to be washed and the the constant stream of clucky hens that need to be rehoused in cages so they start laying again.
      I know ,we had free range up untill 1985 and never would I go back to it

      • “Farmers have cage hens because it is the most wholesome way to produce eggs with the least amount of stress to birds.”
        Wow. You’re delusional, is all I can really say to that. Your “free range” hens are exactly the type of “technically free range” (but not what most of us would consider ‘free range’) eggs that I wrote this post about. If your hens were walking around in their own shit then shame on you, it doesn’t have to be like that.

      • We had free range in every sense of the word.Colony house with 150 birds in each with perching, feeding and nesting in it and free access at all times .3000 in total over 15 acres.Obviously you have never done free range farming judging by your comments.Hens actively seek out their own faeces and scratch in it.Its a bloody nightmare and people are not prepared to pay extra just because it costs a lot more to produce these eggs.That chef moaning about having to pay a couple of extra bucks for a tray of eggs.To be properly recompensed you need at least double what cage eggs sell for. Until that happens you wont get enough suckers to produce them.

  7. Great post. We are getting by on the eggs of our two backyard chooks at the moment, but sometimes have to supplement their output. I’ll be purchasing FRENZ in future when I can’t get eggs from other backyard producers.

  8. Where abouts do you love? Try and find a local supplier of eggs. I have a flock of 80 free range heritage hens. Some eggs are big, some small and some may have poo on the shell… Defiantly free range! Or look at having a couple of free rangers in the back garden ( they are so much fun!!! Esp if you go for a non commercial breed!

    Really enjoyed reading this!

  9. Good article, this was posted on Facebook recently. We have always sourced our eggs organically and free range from a local private farm. Companies Office does show Mainland Poultry indeed owning shares in Glenpark but has anyone actually visited the Glenpark Farm to see what’s happening there. Does Consumer NZ know about this?

  10. Do you know anything about New Day free range eggs, which are the main ones stocked by our local New World supermarket?

      • Thanks for that. This whole issue is extremely depressing, especially if you have access to only limited brands or supplies of eggs. I need to do more local research! It seems to me that it must surely be misleading advertising to say eggs come from free-range hens if they don’t. The whole industry obviously needs much more monitoring so that consumer who care enough really know what it is they’re buying.

  11. thanks very much for this. we have chickens ourselves that are actually free-range and eat only organic food- but the girls naturally stop laying over the winter months and we end up buying eggs. i’ve always the greatest ethical dilemma when stood in front of those piles of eggs. my son, quite beautifully, asked how they got there, the first time he saw them at the supermarket (can you imagine his brain trying to figure that one out!)…

  12. Thank you! for being persistent, for putting in the energy that I haven’t, to do this research. Have you thought of sending this, as is, off to the Commerce Commission? They investigate false advertising claims, misleading labelling and misrepresentation- I’m sure this would definitely be something that they’d take up, as I’ve taken issues to them before and found them very responsive. It might be a more effective route than SPCA or Consumer

  13. Meryl, you’ve obviously not actually been to Woodland’s free range farm or talked to those running the site. If you had, you would have seen that their eggs are absolutely free range and learned a few things about chicken husbandry, which is why groups such as the SPCA make the recommendations they do. You would have also seen the central shed surrounded by paddocks where the hens can roam (just like the photo on their website), and you would certainly have been surprised at how the birds act and where they go when given free access to wide open spaces which grass, trees etc. If you choose not to buy Woodland eggs because they are owned by Mainland Poultry – which despite one Dunedin chef not knowing that fact is no secret – that’s fine, but to write about a product you have clearly not fully investigated (internet surfing during nap time is hardly thorough) is very disappointing. I only buy free range eggs from farms I have investigated and Woodland exceeded all my expectations when I actually went there and saw what they do.

    • Hi Nick.
      I am a parent – therefore all my research is done in my spare time when my child is asleep.
      You may be happy with the Woodlands brand and that’s fine, you’re entitled to buy whatever products you want. However I am not happy with Woodlands’ assocation with Mainland Poultry. Seeing hens outside does not mean the majority of hens have adequate access to the outdoors. It also doesn’t mean that all hens are kept in those conditions – the same company is housing battery hens which to me says a lot about where their ethics lie. It may not be a secret to you that Mainland owns Woodlands, but they hardly advertise it and I am not the only person who was unaware of this.

      • Other than company ownership, there is nothing shared about Woodland and Mainland. They are completely seperate sites running different feed, different staff, differnt farming methods, they don;t even share packing lines. Woodland produces only free range eggs, Mainland produces barn and cage eggs becasue that’s what the majority of NZer’s are willing to pay for. Interstingly eough, they even produce an organic cage egg for some export markets who believe a free range hen is a source of avian flu. What I take excpetion to is that what you have writte, and since had reblogged and posted on facebook etc, is simply not true – Woodland eggs are free range.

      • Company ownership is not irrelevant in my view. I did not expect them to have the same staff or packing lines. Obviously they will have different farming methods if one brand is free range and one is battery farmed. Yet the money is going to the same company – that is where my objection lies. Again, if you have no objection feel free to buy from Woodland. I am not going to stop you, I can only vote with my own choices. I have never posted this on Facebook myself although I realise it has been shared around a bit in the last day or two.

        FYI – If you represent a group I would appreciate you saying so. If you are one individual I find it rather dishonest to post under different aliases.

    • many thanks Nick, I see people knee jerking because shares are owned by ‘the enemy’. For goodness sake, give me a break folks. I have MND, my partner used to raise and farm her own chooks, they were great. Today I have MND and we buy Woodland because they are consistent, fresh and very good for my health. All this obfuscation is simply that. We are highly environmentally practised, have been wherever I have lived. Mainland Schmainland, Woodland Eggs are very good.

  14. the BEST eggs are the ones laid by your own chickens. you can keep a couple of hens in a small back yard, it might be worth the effort if you want to know where your eggs really come from (or track down a friend that has excess eggs!).

    • I agree! Your lawns will also look extremely lush from all the free fertiliser in the form of chicken poop! As for your feet however.. :s

  15. Having access to my mother’s flock of genuine, proper free-range (about 20 chooks on a third of an acre + access to other paddocks) chickens & their eggs has made it quite obvious that the free-range eggs (and meat) you buy is really never as free-range as you imagined it to be. The appearance and taste of the eggs (and meat) is quite different.

    The best way to assure yourself of good quality free-range eggs is to have a couple of chooks. They will also contribute to the manure heap and take care of all manner of scraps – and, bonus, they’re cute and have great personalities.

  16. I think you can only buy eggs with confidence if you go to the farm (unannounced) see the conditions yourself, check out the chicken feed etc. Or rely on them being certified/accredited free range or organic. It is really unfortunate that Glenpark Woodland is connected with Mainland Poultry (via shares) because consumers are instantly suspicious of the brand, they are tainted by association.

  17. Great to see all these comments on owning your own hens! I completely agree – would love to own our own hens one day, although owning our own house and having somewhere with a proper garden will probably have to come first :)

    • I am renting and have 3 chooks and a portable home for them. You just need a good landlord and a friendly neighbourhood. And I live in Devonport!

      • Thanks for your comment Maya. I’m very curious about how the portable home works! How much space do you need? I grow quite a few things in pots but we just have a tiled deck, no lawn. I was under the impression chickens would need grass… I would consider moving though. It’s fantastic that you’re making it work :)

  18. The same thing can be said about Freedom Farms bacon – owned by Premium (the same parent company who own Beehive and some of the other brands on the sow crate “worst offender” list”).

  19. It’s great to see this issue being raised, but it appears to me a wider free-range egg industry issue that you have turned into a brand issue. All the evidence you have given is anecdotal or just opinions.

    • That wasn’t my intention, I just wrote about the brands I knew about. Moreover it is not industry wide, not all free-range egg manufacturers are linked to companies which produce battery eggs. I have linked to a few places which discuss hen-keeping legislation, I assure you I did not make the standards up. Feel free to take from it what you will.

  20. Hi … I am the National Accreditation and Marketing Manager for the SPCA Blue Tick (the accreditation scheme that certifies farm animals in NZ). Firstly rree-range is a marketing term, not a welfare term. Our standards are the highest welfare standards in NZ. We have independant auditors which audit the farms regularly and we spot audit them. Our cerfitied producers need to announce which method they are farming too – barn or free-range (defined by our standards which are all posted on our website http://www.rnzspca.org.nz/bluetick ) the same documents used by our farmers, auditors and seen by consumers. Yes we allow beak trimming however the method used these days is by laser and done at the same time as their one innoculation. Hens need much more than a green open paddock, they are scared of overhead preditors so things like shade and shelter are important. Our standards look at the holistic needs of the animal, and we are trying to educate the media/consumers as egg marketers have misinformed the public.

  21. Can you do some research on the Pams freerange eggs please… i have been buying them for a few years now and can only hope pam has real freerange!
    Thanks.

    • Hi Gregor from Freedom Farms here..I can confirm Julliete is right.Freedom Farms is not owned by Premier Beehive..yes they make bacon for us in their factory(we have always used someone to make our products because we dont have our own factory)..but they have no ownership in Freedom Farms..and nor do we have any ownership in Beehive . Freedom Farms is owned by me and my wife ,my brother and his and a lifelong personal friend.Happy to chat with anyone anytime what we stand for and are trying to achieve .

      • The companies register shows FREEDOM FARMS (NZ) LIMITED (1538097) is owned by Gregor, Cameron, and Christopher. PREMIER BEEHIVE NZ LIMITED (1868700) is a different company with different directors (and a different address et cetera). I am therefore inclined to believe Gregor. Gregor, if Premier are your factory then I suggest you advise them to amend their website to (preferably) remove your brand or make the relationship clearer. Clearly they enjoy the association more than you do.

  22. FYI – Following on from an earlier post that organic certified eggs contain a colour enhancer….The AsureQuality Organic Standards as of December 2011 no longer allows the use of natural colour enhancers in feed. These ingredients are classed as non-organic agricultural ingredients and the standards previously allowed 5% of non-organic agricultural ingredients when an organic form was not available (however such ingredients still had to meet requirements ie, GMO free, not chemically extracted etc) this allowance has now expired which means these are no longer used.

  23. Saying giving chickens more space will make the less aggressive is not completely true. Chickens are very territorial, in our backyard (probably about 1/8th of an acre) of 4 chickens, 3 attacked the 4th while it was malting, and even though we tried to keep it separate for awhile the damage was done and it died. After awhile another died from old age so we got two new chickens and the original two attacked those two to assert their dominance.

    However I no longer get keep chickens but tend to get my free range eggs from a stall at the market, cheaper by bypassing the supermarket and probably more likely to be free range

  24. Thank you so much for posting this information. We make a point to buy free-range eggs and have bought this brand on a number of occasions. I’m sharing your blog post so that my friends and family can make their egg purchases fully informed around what they are really supporting.

  25. For some reason, I’ve always known that Woodland Glenpark was owned by Mainland, and so I only buy their eggs as a last resort. A couple of thoughts:
    While it might be poetic to think that Mainland’s market would dwindle and the company would eventually die, realistically they are more likely to respond to consumer pressure to change their practices and hopefully become a better company over time.
    My second thought, and I’m glad someone asked about the origins of Pams Free Range Eggs, is that you should not underestimate your supermarket’s culpability in this crappiness. Supermarket brands are developed by screwing over producers. I would guess then, that at the point that Foodstuffs (New World, Pak’n’Slave) decided to have Pam’s Free Range Eggs that they looked at their existing free range egg suppliers. Glenpark Woodland are a big one, I’m not sure if there are others on the same scale? However, it is very likely that Foodstuffs threatened to stop selling their products unless they made them Pams packaged eggs at a discount rate (possibly below cost). This downward price pressure would then force them to either hold their farming practices at a poor level, or potentially make them worse. So while you might (validly) think that Mainland are evil, you should probably then also (validly) think that your supermarket is evil. As long as the supermarket chains demand free range eggs at that price point, the production company are going to be stuck doing scummy things.

      • Thanks. I sometimes find the more you dig the more confusing and conflicting choices become. New Zealand does not have a very big industrial organic industry yet, but this kind of industrial free range is very much mirrored in the organics industry in the US and Europe, where the big companies grow things that are technically organic, but the type of monoculture used entirely undermines it.
        Another reason for me not to buy Glenpark is that despite the fact that Dunback is only 60 odd km from Dunedin, the eggs probably come to Dunedin via a Christchurch warehouse.

  26. It’s good to see this issue getting some attention. I’m saddened to find out how loose the regulations are over what can be branded “free range” and hope there might be some public outcry in the very near future to implement more humane practices.

    This might sound like a defense for Glenpark; so let me state that I am in no way affiliated with the company (aside from spending most of my egg dollars with them for many years – perhaps this needs revision). The colour enhancer issue seems to have been put to rest (long after your original post). The connection with Mainland Poultry does muddy the waters and certainly gives me cause to reconsider where my egg dollars are going, but this doesn’t instantly put Glenpark into disrepute (i.e. how tenuous is the connection?). Glenpark has a large flock. Other than that, what is your gripe with Glenpark? Where did you get Rob Darby’s allegation “70% of Woodland hens will never set foot outdoors”?

    The website you linked to cited Darby with “70% of eggs sold free range in New Zealand have never seen the light of day.”

    I think the gist of your post was to highlight the inadequacies of the “free range” misnomer, but Glenpark seems to be copping all the flack.

    • Hi Antony, thanks for your comment. I agree Glenpark is copping all the flack here and while I take issue with their branding, that wasn’t really what I intended. Perhaps I could have included other brands but I was really only writing about the brands relevant to me – i.e., I bought Woodland eggs for some time so I was annoyed to discover a link with Mainland Poultry, a company I do not want to support. If I had realised this post would be picked up and reposted to the extent it has been over the past couple of days I would have taken more care to be even-handed across the market. As it is I stand by what I wrote back in 2011.

  27. Egg-cellent information. Glad to see someone taking some initiative, seeking the truth and writing it all up. This process takes time and patience.

    Hopefully more and more NZ (and global) consumers will question where their products are REALLY coming from, and start looking to support local small business owners via farmers markets and co-ops – instead of the mainstream supermarket giants and suppliers.

    Power to the people!

  28. Thank you. Meryl, I hope you don’t feel discouraged by some of the comments that take issue with what you’ve said, because you’ve brought about a great discussion. And I just had to nip back to the fridge to see which eggs I’d bought recently. Can’t wait till my girls start laying again!

  29. Shows the power of the internet for expanding the issues that matter to us. I’m more informed as a result of this blog and the views expressed – it also reminds us to keep an open mind. Thanks Meryl and contributors :-)

  30. Well, I’m a vegetarian and I’ve been thinking of going vegan… After reading your article and all the posts here I’m much closer to my decision. Thank you for your vigilance.

    • Hi Nigel…. I was vegetarian until April. I am now vegan. I started thinking about the swap over just before Christmas. It’s as if I was blind before… I just didn’t see it… and I only bought free range eggs because I would never buy the other kind! I am quite angry with myself for not being more up on this stuff… I had been turning a blind eye, I suppose… I had a conversation with someone who asked me how cows make milk… I was surprised she didn’t know they produce milk after having a baby just like women who breastfeed (I’m a breastfeeding mum!) and I just started thinking about how I would feel if I gave birth to a baby and had it taken away by force… so another species could drink my milk instead of my baby! All these animals are being created and are frightened, terrified and abused to no end and I won’t be a part of it. By April I just couldn’t live with myself anymore. The whole thing about how cows produce milk…. I wonder how many people just don’t think about it or dont know. I was really surprised at my friend’s lack of knowledge about this. I hope you feel you are making a good choice. Good luck!

  31. The human population passed the 1 billion mark just over a century ago. Now we are at 7 billion plus. As long as we’re spreading ourselves, procreating like an unstoppable virus we’re going to continue to steamroller every other species on the planet. Ultimately, the continued demand for cheap eggs shows that humans don’t really give a damn about the chickens, or any other animal for that matter.
    Cynical? Sure. Am I a vegan? No. I love my cheap meat and dairy as much as the next man. I just recognise that the planet would flourish if humans were wiped out. We’re a scourge, ultimately, that’s all there is to it. We can all nod sagely at each other and voice how pitiful the situation is but I bet there’s not a single person that has commented here that isn’t a rampant consumer, doing their part to hurry along our ultimate demise.
    Jesus, people, we’re rambling on about hens when a third of our species is malnourished. Does anyone else find this whole discourse faintly ridiculous?

    • I view your response as a bit of a cop out. Just because people are suffering does not mean we should ignore animal suffering. Yes the overpopulation of humans is a scourge and that is why I chose not to reproduce. Many people are turning away from consumerism and I believe many of those ‘ nodding sagely’ and expressing concern here are making efforts to right the wrongs and actively make good choices. I too can be as cynical as hell but I have learnt that that’s the easy way out – throw up your hands and say the world’s gone to hell. It is much harder to get off your chuff and do something: complain and campaign against wrongs, make choices that make life a little harder but better and have hope. People can actually work for human rights and animal rights, they are not mutually exclusive. The worst thing I find is people who say it’s all a mess and put it in the too hard basket.

    • Pom – Depends on your definition of rampant consumer. I certainly consume more than people generally do in some parts of the world but I do my best to be a conscious consumer, hence looking into the origins of the eggs I buy ;)

      Moreover it is mindless consumption which contributes to poverty in the developing world. If you are concerned about global poverty – not sure you actually are or you just like an excuse – consuming less and practising being an ethical consumer are good places to start.

  32. Thanks for that information. My husband did some work at the Mainland farm and had mentioned to me that they did both “Free Range” and caged, but I didn’t know how they were branded. Now I know. I always figured that at the very least, as a consumer, that my choosing to buy eggs labelled as “Free Range” (whether they were or not – I’d heard rumours, but hadn’t researched) I was asserting my position as far as the debate went. However, I would rather pay a little more (and believe me, we can’t afford to right not, but I still do) for the knowledge that the hens producing the eggs I eat are living happy, healthy lives. If we are going to take advantage of these animals, the least we can do is make sure they live good lives while they are here – same goes for sheep, cattlel, fish, etc. I understand why people choose to be vegan, I’m just not there, yet.

  33. Solution.Get a chicken coup and 2 or 3 hens at minimal expence.Bam best eggs you will ever taste and loads of fun.

  34. What we need is regulation change.
    That and awareness of the “free range” term. Your blog starts awareness.
    For that awareness I feel the need to -posted this.
    Please take solace in the knowledge that this is the first blog I have re-posted, let alone commented on.
    Thanks

  35. Pingback: Not Very Free Range Eggs | br3ndadotcom

  36. Pingback: Craggy Range Merlot 2010, Free Range Eggs, Wine Labeling

  37. Good research, well done!

    I have a comment on your analysis of the branding, as your observations would be the same if a company genuinely changed its ways. Note that I am in Australia, a fervent supported of proper free range eggs (my daugher and I created the chookloose.org website to promote this in AU). I’m also an entrepreneur and I observe businesses and their way of operating.

    In a company that’s been around for a while, the business processes are fairly set. Management is not really free to change the company’s direction in a significant way, as aspects of the processes will not support it. In practical terms, this means that regardless of intention, day-to-day decisions and cash tends to flow away from activities that appear to cannibalise the original core operations. These observations are well documented in research by Harvard Business School. I’ll add that in most cases managers don’t even realise.

    If a company wants to undertake something disruptive, the way to do this is with a group of people where the finances and management is separate from the original business. So there you have it, a separate brand – but not only that, it would really be a separate company, even if it’s affiliated or even owned by the original. It’s the appropriate way to undertake such a change in direction. Obviously doing this takes time, and the natural flow (when succesful) is that the original company disappears.

    So, it’s important to realise this and not see this construct as an indicator of deception, as by itself it is neither good nor bad, it just is. You’ll need to judge the company through other means, this cannot be part of the evidence.
    (in your case, you did judge the company through other means, but you did bring the company structure forward as part of the evidence – which is what I’m alerting you about.)

  38. It’s like all the other misleading terms- justice-your honor-democracy- accountability-standards-investigations-leaders- words we see everyday thinking the right thing is being done when its not. We need the word police, we need something the endless crap is drowning us all.

  39. Does anyone know about Palace free-range eggs? They’re generally $1 cheaper than Frenz, and come in a pale green recycled carton with dark green text printed directly on the box. Can’t find any reference on the company online…

  40. What about chicken meat? The only free-range chicken meat in the supermarket seems to be Macro – does anyone know if they are affiliated with any of the free-range egg companies, or if the regulations are the same? For some reason free range eggs are very high profile, but no one seems to worry about the chicken meat.

    • I haven’t looked into chicken meat but it’s a very good question. Definitely worth looking into. I think free range eggs get more of a profile because eggs – even decent ones – are a lot cheaper than chicken; plus they have more uses and many non-meat-eaters still eat eggs. A lot of people want to be ethical but only if the price is right. Many consumers would still rather eat battery chicken rather than eat less or no chicken, if they can’t afford free range. If you’re eating a drumstick from a plastic-wrapped container that came from the supermarket shelf, it’s pretty easy to ignore where it came from.

      • I used to buy Rangitikei corn fed free range chicken, then I tried to get hold of them one day and found they had the same address as Tegal chicken. I think I even called them and Tegal answered (although I see that Rangitikei is now struck off on companies register). So that did it for me. I have to admit I haven’t done the same research on Macro – but that is produced for Progressive and there’s a post here about the supermarket chain’s reply to questions about it being “accredited” free range…
        http://www2.everybody.co.nz/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/2354288/Re_Is_Macro_Chicken_really_Fre

      • Pieter: The price is right for me (can’t speak for anyone else) when the price on the product is less than or equal to the lesser of: what I can afford or what I feel the product is worth. In other words, if it’s outside my budget I can’t buy it and if I feel like someone’s taking the piss, I won’t buy it.
        Of course, if I don’t understand all the factors which contribute to the price, I can have unfair expectations of what the price should be… The supermarkets’ practice of screwing down the price with their own branded products doesn’t help matters – and neither does the plethora of unethically produced products designed for profit over all else.
        Turning that around, producer’s of higher priced products rely on enough customers being able to afford their product, and on enough customers understanding why it costs what it does. And individual producers of high quality, ethically created products rely on customers being educated enough to spot the difference between what they sell and the competition’s cynically over-priced trash.

        Good luck with that :-(

      • I’ve been to the Brinks farm (or, one of, I’m not sure if they have more than one). Never, ever buy that stuff if you care about chickens. Just saying…

  41. I’ve read all the comments, contradictions and attacks/defences – in the long run, with marketing being King, can we believe anyone/company/brand? The main objective of all is the mighty $$$! And as ALL prices of everything are rising, juggling the dollar values of commodities with what you earn often means the choice between feeding a family or not. Choice is now a luxury that is not always available to the poor. I work with very economically challenged people, and a single dollar can buy them a loaf of bread, needed to feed children. Paying that dollar or more to have “organic” or “free range” is simply not an option. Maybe the focus should be on getting people to have healthy accommodation and sufficient nutritious food to feed a family. When people have sufficient, they may then have the luxury of that concept of choice. Only then will the shift happen. For those who worry daily about what they can afford to give their own children – they don’t have time or wherewithall to worry about which hen laid the eggs that keep their own family healthy!

    • Hi Lyn. My point in writing this post was not to say that everyone should buy free range eggs or even the brands I personally prefer. I totally understand that choice is a luxury and there are people with much greater concerns. However, there are a lot of people who do have the luxury of choice. Should we ignore the ethics of animal husbandry because some people can’t afford to choose more ethical options? While I understand that poverty is a real issue in our society I don’t think ignoring other problems until everyone can afford to be concerned by them is reasonable.

    • Nobody needs to feel ashamed that they cant afford to buy free range .It is only a marketing con and there are a few unscrupulous people who take advantage of it to gain a few extra dollars.I know because when the free range producers start running out of eggs they buy them off us.Fair enough that people have a choice but dont make consumers feel bad because they cant afford what basically is a snobbery attitude.
      Cage hens are very well looked after having warm comfortable surroundings,consistently good nutrition and clean wholesome water,have a superior health status therefore requiring very little if any medication and the eggs are exceptionally clean..Our caged hens havnt needed antibiotics , wormers or lice treatment for at least 20 years.
      Of course the almighty dollar is important, everybody likes to be able to pay their bills and be able to upgrade as required .very rarely do you see lawyers and accountants doing anything for nothing.

      • Hi Peter

        Clearly you have the gift of NLP and marketing spin given to you after years of spin-doctoring. You are very effective at spinning the negative picture of free range eggs with wonderful imagery of diseases (https://nontoxicnest.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/not-so-free-range-eggs-why-i-want-my-money-back/#comment-142) followed by heart warming and comforting imagery of cage hens farming. The funny thing is, you seem to say all this word-for-word almost a year ago following Campbell Live’s piece on the topic: http://www.3news.co.nz/Chickens-eggs-colony-systems-Whats-the-big-secret/tabid/367/articleID/220015/Default.aspx

        I would gladly take your words and opinion to heart, if it were backed by proof and not spin-doctoring. Let Campbell Live into your farm with a camera, and we’ll be good old human beings and judge things for ourself.

        The people who are concerned by this research, are buying their animal products based on empathy, not “diseases” that chickens catch. They see caged hens with a fast approaching death, artificial lighting, uncomfortable surfaces, and the sheer factory-line manufacturing as despicable and unacceptable.

        Conscious consumers are more interested in a chicken walking freely around, socialising with others, experiencing the beauty of nature, grass between their claws, wind ruffling their feathers and the ability to live long and enjoyable lives, as important and worthwhile.

      • Thanks for that flattery.Unlike you I have walked the walk,not just talked the talk in both free range and caged egg production..To describe Campbell as a researcher could only be used in a very loose description of the word.Unfortunately only the loony fringe will talk to him on these matters as his reputation precedes him.His only ‘product’ he has is alarm.Without it he is nothing if he cant achieve the ratings.He has no tangible stake in our industry that he wishes to influence or any responsibility for the continued supply of affordable food.His wish is merely to be an irritant to our our industry which precludes anything termed research.

      • ‘cage hens are very well looked after’… I’m sorry but what the actual f**k?? What a load of utter crap.

  42. I’m very unimpressed by their dying food and have always been skeptical of their branding. I usually buy organic or try to get eggs off friends and family who have chickens.

    Got a bit of info on Glenpark though, I know that in Palmerston Otago at least, they do let the chickens out into large paddocks to roam around which have high fences around them so they don’t jump over. No idea what the conditions are like inside but maybe that will put your mind at rest a bit if you’ve got the eggs in your kitchen : )

  43. I am in the food industry. A small, organic or ethical company being supported by a larger one is not an unusual thing, in fact it’s the norm. Many companies would love to be 100% organic and ethical but just can’t do it, financially. Surely it’s better for the owners of big biz therefore to either set up a side business that is more ethically driven or invest in one? Perhaps in time the free-range aspect will take off to the point that there is less battery farming at Mainland? Common ownership says nothing about the ethics of the owners – they may just be silent investors with no managerial input. You don’t know what spurred the free-range business. Perhaps it was the brainchild of an employee and Mainland bankrolled it. You don’t know their motivation. I’m not saying you are wrong, but do you have all the facts?.

    The food industry is crazy and necessarily involves ethical compromise due to handling, cleaning and packaging regulations – yes, even those raw, organic, vegan products you see in funky little community co-op type shops. Do you know for sure how the owners of those companies ‘really’ live or what other business ventures they are involved in? I know one that makes organic foods in her spare time and is a delivery driver for radioactive chemicals in her real life. Most people need money.

    I’m not sure what the problem with beta-carotene is. That’s just a vitamin A supplement. Maybe it adds a bit of colour to the yolk, but it’s not a chemical toxin.

    BTW, you should keep blogging, Meryl. We need more kiwi health bloggers. If there are any reading this comment please visit my blog and I’ll link you up. All the healthy living bloggers I know from NZ live in AUSTRALIA (haha).

  44. Meryl, do listen to Sara’s ‘BTW’ (I just checked out her blog – it’s sassy & interesting). As yet another blogger, I know that life can get in the way, and from time to time a deafening silence can be demoralising, but the response you’ve received months after you made this post is an indication that that can change, and that thought can be provoked. Be it serendipity and/or something more, it’s worth it. Thanks again for this post. BTW: You get bonus points for having chipped in, now and then, to the conversation you started!

    • Thanks Claire! I really wrote these posts mostly for my own records and thinking process, and stopped because I went back to do some more university study – but it has certainly been an interesting lesson on the power of the internet and I am considering getting back into it :)

  45. I adressed this issue by raising my own hens. I have four, which have about 20 SQM to run during the day, and I put them up at night in a 3 sqm coop. In addition to commercial feed, they eat all of our table scraps. They just love beef and pork. they lay wonderful delicious eggs and going out in the morning to collect breakfast is priceless….

  46. I am a French Italian lady who has visited New Zealand, Australia, the US and now live in the U.K (I was researching woodland eggs here in UK & found this forum).
    I think the majority of posters here should take exception that I don’t speak of you (as you sound like the healthy, slim, ethical and conscientious people that us Europeans are famous for being) when I say that the “majority New Zealanders” whom Pieter Bloem (? I mean the battery hen farmer) refers to, who he says won’t pay a little extra for healthy ethical eggs…..is a case in point for me, that the excuse that they can’t afford to pay extra for healthy food is because they would much rather shovel 50kilograms of garbage into their shopping carts than 30 kg’s of quality healthy produce. It is exactly why I found, in my travels, most NZ-ers, Aussies and Americans to be a grossly obese as the statistics say they are! IT IS NOT A CASE OF PEOPLE BEING TOO POOR TO BUY ORGANIC PRODUCE…..rather, they are too greedy and don’t give a toss for animal ethics, pesticides in their foods etc when all they want is to shovel bucketfuls of garbage down their gobs, as much as their dollar will buy!
    In Italy, the majority of people still buy produce from their local small scale grocer, who has sourced his produce locally. Large scale farming and huge supermarket chains are yet to get a foothold into the majority of Italy’s consumer behaviour.
    So I feel what you should be questioning is not what your supermarket chains are doing to drive down prices, or what/how large scale, mass production of food is doing to you, your community, your country and the world at large. What you ought to be questioning is why you (I found, in my travels in NZ and Australia especially) seem to think you live in the most natural, blessed paradises on Earth??. Why do you think because in 200yrs you’ve not completely obliterated your natural environs, why that should give you license to believe that you have such worlds best lives? In Italy we’ve farmed and traded for millenniums, MILLENNIUMS…and yet by and large, we are slimmer, healthier and eating what is recognised as the most delicious food of the world! All without resorting to large scale mass production of our food economy. I am not saying we don’t have any large scale, mass production food facilities, we do! But in the 21st century they are still an exception rather than the rule, there largely to cater for the demands of your enormous supermarket chains in UK, US et al.
    I simply think you all need to look at your 55% obese population and ask yourselves what is symptomatically wrong with the culture of your country.

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