Free-range meat - is it all equal?

If you buy free-range, how do you make sure you get what you pay for?
Learn more
  • Updated:6 Mar 2007

03.Cows and sheep

Feedlots more common due to drought

For many years, beef and lamb in Australia were all ‘free-range’. No matter how big the operation, the animals roamed free, grazing on the wide open spaces Australia has to offer.

Beef and sheep feedlots are now becoming more common, and the drought is speeding things in this direction as grazing land in many areas is drought-affected, making feedlots more attractive.

  • The feedlot industry considers animals in its care are protected, fed and cared for if they’re sick.
  • Critics say the animals have very limited space and the environment they live in is dirty, dusty and contaminated by excrement.
  • The RSPCA doesn’t oppose feedlots as such, but has many concerns and a list of conditions it considers must be met to ensure good animal welfare. There’s no RSPCA-endorsed beef or lamb scheme at present.

Critics of the cattle industry say some traditionally reared cattle and sheep don’t fare much better — while some may live on rich grazing land where farms are small enough for all the animals to receive individual care and attention, other farms are so large they say animals are left to their own devices until round-up time. 

Links has details of where you can go for more information on the industry and animal welfare groups concerns.

Free-range guarantees limited

  • Certified organic meats have a free-range component, but the standards don’t go as far as some animal welfare groups would like, with some contentious procedures such as mulesing (cutting away skin near the tail of a sheep) and tail docking still allowed under some circumstances.
  • HSI’s Humane choice scheme prohibits these practices, and until this label hits the shops your ‘free-range’ beef and lamb guarantees are limited to certified organics.

Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.