"We know that consumers are willing to pay premium prices for foods that have credence claims about them, such as free to roam or organic" explained Sarah Court, Commissioner for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
All chicken packaging labeled with "free to roam" and "organic" should uphold what these labels contend. If not, any deceptive advertisement betrays all ethical consumers who are choosy of their meats. And not only that, deceptive chicken companies make the market competition unfair for those meat providers who are willing to pay extra cost just to ensure they are selling "free to roam" chicken.
It was on this ground that court found two of Australia's major poultry producers, Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, negligent of. Both companies were suppliers for Australia's largest chicken seller, Steggles branded chickens.
Packages for their poultry produce indicate that their chickens were "free to roam" but court had proven otherwise.
According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Federal Court found Steggles branded chicken which were sold with packaging labeled as "free to roam" were actually being held in cramped sheds, their moving space not more than the size of an A4 paper.
In an official documents made public by the Federal Court said that Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises place chickens on an average of 30,000 to 40,000 - that is 20 chickens per square metre.
What makes the matter worse for these two companies was that they allot $5 million on company advertisements building trust from the consumers that their chickens were contained in "large carefully ventilated barns with comfortable bedding material covering the floor, where they are free to roam and have easy access to food and water."
Justice Richard Tracey emphasized that the court define "free to roam" as "the largely uninhibited ability of the chickens to move around at will in an aimless manner."
According to the court rulings, "until the levels dropped at some point between the 33rd and 42nd days of the growth cycle, chickens could not, in my judgement, be said to be free to roam around the shed at will and with a sufficient degree of unimpeded movement to justify the assertion that they were free to roam..."
"They could not move more than a metre or so (at most) without having their further movement obstructed by a barrier of clustered birds. As stocking densities were thinned afert 4-5 weeks, the chickens could be considered free to roam. By this time a bird which wished to move around the barn could weave its way across the floor through gaps between other birds or around smaller clustered groups."
NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi on the other hand saw that there should be a new and clearer legislation that will define the term "free to roam". Nevertheless, with its current definition, greedy companies will continue to mislabel their products as "free to roam" and continue to deceive its consumers for profit. She said that the term "free to roam" is more of advertising "though bubble" rather a genuine definition that can be associated to animal welfare standards.
Ms Faruqi said, "Cramming birds into shed with less than an A4 sheet of paper to move and conning consumers into thinking that the birds are free to roam represents the worst kind of consumer deception."
In other report, even the Australian Chicken Meat Federation was also found negligent of false advertising by claiming through their website that "chickens produced in Australia were free to roam or able to roam freely in large barns" while this was not the real condition.
However, the Chicken Meat Federation was confident that the court findings will have little to none effect as the chicken industry has already stopped the use of the term "free to roam"
In an interview with ABC news, Ms Sarah upholds that the court will still impose punishment to the Federation, "If industry associations want to get involved with these kinds of significant marketing campaigns, then the industry association needs to make sure that what it is telling its members and encouraging its members to do also falls within the confines of the law."
She emphasised that "Industry associations across the board will now be sitting up and taking notice of their potential liability for this kind of conduct."