While I claim no particular position on animal welfare, I am against poor journalism. And a good example of poor journalism is given by an article on the case in the Business Spectator. The author may know about chickens but he appears to know nothing about the Competition and Consumer Act. Section 18(1) of schedule 2 of the Act states that:
A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.
So the argument is about what the phrase ‘free to roam’ implies to consumers. It is not an argument about chicken welfare, how much space a chicken needs or the definition of freedom. Rather, when chicken meat producers use the term ‘free to roam’ in order to promote their product to consumers, are they using that term in a way that is likely to mislead or deceive consumers?
I do not know if the ACCC will win the case or not – but I think it is worth a try. I do not think that most people would consider “two chickens allocated a space equivalent to an A3 page” in a barn as ‘free to roam’. But the author of the Business Spectator article does not appear to care about the legal issue or, indeed, the consumers.
I am also at a loss to understand what possible benefit might be achieved by spending taxpayers’ money on this case. Even if the ACCC succeeds, chicken producers can simply stop using the “free to roam” claim. This will have no impact whatsoever on chicken consumption. Even the fact that three-quarters of consumers mistakenly think chickens are treated with hormones has not done that.
- the claim of ‘free to roam’ doesn’t effect sales (so the chicken meat sellers must be stupid to use this ineffective claim to try to sell more chicken meat); and
- consumers are too stupid to understand chickens anyway, as illustrated by their views on hormones.