When it comes to buying eggs, consumer priorities are split in two. There are those who will forgo price to ensure ethical farming, and those for whom price point is the determiner.
But on all side of the discussion, the biggest issue is the industry’s transparency.
“What’s interesting in the data is that it’s showing people really do care where their eggs come from too,” said Dr Kieren Moffat, senior research scientist with the CSIRO, who will be conducting a three-year survey of the industry with Australian Eggs.
“On that, welfare is a number one concern to consumers, and then care for the environment is a close concern also.
“There were a lot of comments from people wanting to know more about the industry,” said Dr Moffat.
It is that selling premise on which Anna Lashbrook has built her business. Operating from Old Junee for the past five years, Cackleberries by Lashbrook Farm welcomes public visits.
“The biggest thing for us is that people can come to our farm, they can see the chooks running around and be confident that they are really free range,” said Ms Lashbrook.
The hens have acres of open spaces to roam, and a shed that is always open for their laying. With 50 to 60 dozens collected every day, the regime has not hindered production. The challenge is maintaining profitability.
“It is more expensive to run a free range farm, because you’ve got so many elements you just can’t control,” said Ms Lashbrook.
“Free range you’ve got to deal with the summer heat that drops [egg] production, and the molting.”
In line with the survey findings, Ms Lashbrook believes it is a small price to pay for consumer satisfaction.
“Cage eggs, you can control everything, but that’s not what the consumer wants, and that’s the real challenge,” said Ms Lashbrook.
“From my own point of view, words have been used and abused for so long, and usually it’s just for profit. Words like ‘free range’, ‘free run’, or ‘organic’, they don’t cut through any more.
“Producers need to be having an open and honest dialogue with consumers. The responsibility is on producers to be forthcoming about what they’re doing on their farms.”