ACCC takes chicken industry to court

Have you seen recent Steggles ads trying to convince you that their chickens are 'free to roam' in large barns — enjoying the good life? If these claims made you suspicious, you're not alone.


PUBLISHED ON: 13 September 2011

In reality, factory farmed chickens are confined at such high densities inside sheds that they cannot roam around freely. Following a complaint pursued by animal law groups*, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found reason to take Steggles producers Baiada and Bartter, La Ionica producer Turi Foods, and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation to the Federal Court — alleging misleading or deceptive advertising related to claims about the treatment of chickens raised for meat.

Update: 9th July, 2013 -- The ACCC has won its landmark case against Baiada, one of Australia's biggest chicken meat companies, and the industry peak body Australian Chicken Meat Federation. Baiada, which owns Steggles, was found guilty by the Federal Court in Victoria of misleading consumers through claims on packaging and in print advertising. Following a court inspection, Justice Richard Tracey ruled as misleading Baiada's claims that chickens were 'free to roam'. After viewing the living conditions of the chickens in Baiada's sheds, Justice Tracey said "The impression of a continuous wall-to-wall sea of birds remained. With few exceptions, each bird was in physical contact with one or more other birds." Penalties against Baiada will be meted out shortly.

Update: 10th January, 2012 -- Chicken meat company La Ionica has agreed to settle, being ordered to pay a $100,000 fine, remove the misleading advertisement from shops and publish an ad admitting liability in a Melbourne newspaper. The remaining defendants (two chicken meat companies and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation) are continuing with the case, which will go to court in March of this year.

Update: 6th October, 2011 -- Investigation footage supplied by Animals Australia aired on ABC's 7.30, exposing the truth behind factory-farmed chicken meat production in Australia, and the misleading advertising used to sell it to an unwitting Australian public. Watch the story here. More in depth coverage was aired on ABC's Landline on Sunday October 9th.

The defendants have over the past several years used the claim that chickens raised for chicken meat are 'free roaming' or 'free to roam in large barns' in their advertising, on product packaging and/or websites — giving consumers the false impression that factory farmed chickens are afforded substantial space allowing them to roam freely. But the ACCC alleges that the population density of meat chickens raised in barns preclude such movement.

For the vast majority of their lives, these birds have less space to themselves than an A4 sized piece of paper. The birds' ability to move is also restricted by their unnatural growth rate — three times faster than natural — which makes their bodies so heavy as they get older that many struggle to move to reach for food and water. Others suffer heart failure as their hearts struggle to cope under the pressure of their overweight bodies.

Twenty million chickens die in these conditions each year.

Fast food giant KFC (which sources large numbers of chickens from Steggles) was quick to pull its "free to roam" claims from its website after the charges were laid. But the defendants continue to use their misleading claims, of which 'free to roam' is just one example. 'Cage free' and 'raised in barns' are some of the other sneaky statements used to sell factory farmed chicken. Click here to take our quiz to see if you can see through the spin.

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Almost all chicken meat for sale in Australia comes from factory farms. Their only hope rests with informed consumers refusing to buy into cruelty. Click here to learn how to become a compassionate shopper, and make a difference to the lives of animals every time you shop!

* This Federal court outcome was achieved after a complaint to the ACCC about 'Free to Roam' advertising was initiated by Lawyers for Animals (LFA), lodged jointly by several animal law groups (LFA/BAWP/[email protected]), and then progressed with the ACCC by the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel (BAWP) (with some assistance from Animals Australia).

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