How good is your free range?

Free range is good, right?

If it is 'free range' then the product has come from animals who have had a happy life, right? Well in some cases that may be true, but for some free range products that is not necessarily the case. A growing trend amongst consumers believe because it is free range, it is all good.

Here are some 'tips' to understand how good the free range product you buy is.

What do you need to know about free range?

  • Free range is only a style of farming / a type of housing
  • There are no legally binding definition of free range that control the definition of a free range farming product
  • This means that free range and free-to-roam can easily be used as marketing terms, so always look beyond the marketing, free to-roam for how many hours per day and for how many days a year?
  • In New Zealand, there are codes of welfare which include minimum standards that however are not legally binding and were only set to encourage high standards when caring for animals. This means that those standards are not prescriptive and there are no penalties for non-compliance
  • Farms are audited by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), but these checks only cover food safety and animal welfare concerns
  • So without an independent trusted third party certification, consumers could be paying more for a free range product than they should be, with no assurance of good animal welfare or that the product is living up to its packaging claims
  • Remember, a good barn operation is better than a poor free range operation with limited access to the outdoors, no access to litter inside the sheds so that the birds can't forage and dust bath, poor ventilation system inside the sheds that don't prevent the dust, and overall not meeting the full behavioural needs based on the Five Freedoms and strict standards set out by animal welfare experts

With more and more free range products appearing in the supermarkets, mindful consumers should look beyond the marketing jargon, the claims on the packaging, the pretty images and/or engaging videos on soical media and do their homework.

    So, ask the right questions!

    • Free range
      o  How has the product been certified as free range?
      o  Is the 'Free Range Certification' granted after an independent audit?
    • Independently audited
      o  Is there a certification logo on the packaging?
      o  What does the certification logo actually mean and who actually issued it? Is it something that has been designed by the brand or the producer/farmer himself or does it actually mean something?
      o  Do the farms get audited or do the producers ‘audit themselves’?
      o  If independently audited (which would be expected), are their independent auditors instructed by an independent accreditation to go onto the farms and audit against the standards of that independent accreditation? Or do the businesses instruct their independent auditors to audit to their own standards, which could be a conflict of interest?
      o  How often do the farms get audited? Any un-announced / random audits?
      o  Is the certification approval granted after an independent audit that's been successfully conducted by a third party auditor extensively trained to standards?
      o  Is a 'Certificate of Approval' issued once the farm or the site has successfully passed the audit and if so is it available for consumers (and businesses) to view it on request?


    • To which standards
      o  To which standards has the product been farmed?
      o  Who writes the standards? Have the standards been written by animal welfare experts or written by the farmer itself or by non-animal welfare experts?
      o  Does the product meet the Minimum Code of Welfare (which is not legally binding), or do the standards go beyond that, such as stringent high animal welfare standards that are enforceable?
      o  What's the stocking density on the farms? What kind of conditions are they in? How many birds are there per square metre? What access do they have to the outdoors? Is there any litter inside the sheds so that they can dust bath? Is there any ventilation system inside to prevent the dust? Check out our
      standards for more information


    The answers to the above questions will help you Kiwis understand what type of eggs you buy. Discerning consumers can feel good about SPCA Blue Tick® approved eggs because our accreditation is robust with high animal welfare at its core

    Find out more...

    Charles Sturt University (AUS) - New free-range labelling law a missed opportunity 

    Th Country - Paul Little: Hen welfare or PR savvy

    RadioLive - What does free range mean?

    NZ Listener - Terms such as 'free range' and 'organic' should be treated with caution

    The Scotsman - Can anyone really be an ethical carnivore? - Consumers face much higher costs for free-range, fair trade options

    Daily Mail Australia - Vitamin D makes free-range eggs better for you: Yolks from hens that are allowed to wander contain 30% more of the nutrient
    ©Royal New Zealand SPCA 2016. All rights reserved
    Charity Number CC22705