Free Range is not just a marketing term!

Did you know that the term ‘Free Range’ is not protected by law in New Zealand? Because of this it has simply become a marketing term which, for the most part, is not supported or promoted by the large meat industries. The reason for the lack of support is simply that Free Range is a costly form of farming, and is therefore not the preferred method in the industry, and the industry is focused on promoting the majority of their members not the minority.

For a long time this has been a bone of contention for us, mainly from an ethical standpoint, but as we grow it is also becoming a large financial issue. As I have mentioned in many of my previous blogs, growing a kilogram of free range pork will cost more than twice that of intensively reared pork (whether battery or free farmed). To offset this we have to increase our retail prices and hope that our consumers will be willing to spend the extra to support our goal of promoting the ethical treatment of animals.

The problem arises when customers are presented with options that appear to be the same but are in fact very different. Firstly, let’s be clear that Free Range means animals are born outdoors and live outdoors (with shelter, water, feed and a healthy environment) for the entirety of their lives. Free Range does NOT mean the animals are born outdoors and reared indoors from the age of 5 weeks (or in ‘eco’ shelters), which is what is known as Free Farmed or, as Freedom Farms call it, Freedom Farmed. The Free Range form of farming is labour intensive and costly on feed and infrastructure, because of this only about 1% of all pork in New Zealand is Free Range.

This brings me to you, the consumer! If only 1% of farming is Free Range, are you not a little surprised when many restaurants and cafes promote their products as Free Range? Or, when you go to the supermarket and see shelves of Freedom Farms bacon and believe it’s Free Range? The reason there seems to be a lot of Free Range bacon and pork around is because it’s probably NOT Free Range. In most cases, a restaurant or cafe may believe they are buying Free Range because they ask their wholesaler or butcher for Free Range, and the supplier then supplies them with Freedom Farmed pork because they can’t get Free Range. Or, they buy a little Free Range and make up the shortfall with non Free Range products. Perhaps this is the reason why many restaurants now write on their menu “We use Free Range products where available”. Free Range is available but it costs more, so if one item is in short supply (like pork belly), then why not look to use another part of the animal? I know of many companies that are saying Free Range but using ‘Freedom Farmed’ pork, especially food trucks.

When it comes to supermarket brands, they let you believe it’s Free Range and use marketing terms like Freedom and Happy. Leave a comment on their facebook pages saying “I only buy Free Range” and see if they correct you? Some bacon states Free Range on the packaging but if you look on the back, you will see it is from Denmark and Danish Free Range standards are what we would call Free Farmed, ie. the pigs are born outdoors, weaned at 4 weeks and then reared indoors .

So, I am going to ask you for a favour. The next time you have pork at a restaurant or bacon in a cafe and the menu says Free Range, please ask them what FARM it comes from, if they don’t know the farm or they say Freedom Farms then politely ask them to change their menu or source ethical meat. Likewise if you see a brand of sausages or meat or bacon in a shop which states Free Range please email or call the brand and ask what FARM it comes from.

If they cannot name the farm then it is NOT Free Range.
If you agree with me that Free Range should be a protected term, then please email the Commerce Commission on contact@comcom.govt.nz so that animals and consumers get treated ethically and fairly.