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 is the free range product that you buy.

So, what do you need to know about free range?

  • Free range is only a style of farming / a type of housing
  • There are no regulations 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
  • Without an independent third party certification, consumers could be paying more for a free range product than they should yet with no assurance of good animal welfare. 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 social media and do their homework.

So, ask the right questions!

  • How has the product been certified as free range?
  • Is there a certification logo on the packaging? What does the certification logo actually mean and who actually issued it? Is it something that has been designed by the brand or does it actually mean something?
  • Do the farms get audited or do they audit themselves? How often? 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?
  • To which standards is the product being farmed? 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?
  • Does the product meet the Minimum Code of Welfare (which is not enforceable), or do the standards go beyond that, such as stringent high animal welfare standards that are enforceable?
  • Is the certification approval granted after an independent audit that's been successfully conducted by a third party auditor, extensively trained to standards?
  • Is the 'Free Range Certification' granted after an independent audit?
  • 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?
  • 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 forage and dust bath? Is there any ventilation system inside to prevent the dust? Check out our standards for more information.

Find out more...

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
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