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Free range porkies

CHOICE says consumers pay up to 600% more for ‘free-range’ ham

23 December 2013

If you’re looking to put some pork on your fork this holiday, you may find yourself paying up to 600% more for free-range products. 

A CHOICE review has found a lack of consistency in free-range pork and turkey labelling, which means consumers have fat chance of knowing whether a free-range claim meets their expectations.

“There’s currently no legally binding definition of free-range ham in Australia, and producers appear to be making their own decisions about what free-range means,” says CHOICE Head of Media, Tom Godfrey.

“It is estimated that 97% of the 4.8 million pigs produced in Australia are raised indoors in intensive housing, sometimes referred to as ‘factory farms’. Only the remaining three per cent is free-range or organic.”

The closest we have to an official definition comes from the national Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pork. This sets out minimum farming standards with which all producers must comply. While the model code “recommends” stocking densities for outdoor sows and boars, there are no limits to the stocking density of meat pigs kept outside in paddocks. As long as an animal has access to the outdoors it can be called free-range – regardless of stocking densities or welfare conditions.

The lack of a legally binding standard means regulating free-range claims falls to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has the power to investigate complaints about misleading free-range labelling.

The news comes a week after NSW Fair Trading responded to CHOICE’s super complaint about shonky free-range egg claims, announcing it would be pushing for a nationally enforceable standard for ‘free-range’ eggs under Australian Consumer Law.

“Much like free-range eggs claims, the labelling of ham is scrambled and requires nationally consistent and enforceable standard for free-range to stop consumers being misled.”

The super complaint process allows CHOICE to bring forward evidence of issues harming NSW consumers, and requires the regulator to publicly respond within 90 days. This provides a powerful avenue for consumer groups to focus attention on systemic problems in markets. This is the second super complaint CHOICE has submitted under its trial with NSW Fair Trading. 

Product [1]   Cost per kilo Percentage increase on cheapest standard
non-free range whole ham
Aldi’s Australian Half Leg Ham  $6.49  0%
Woolworths Ham Whole  $6.99  7.7%
Coles Full Leg Hams  $7 7.9%
Coles Double Smoked Full Leg Hams  $9 38.7%
Aldi’s Australian Leg Ham Portion  $8.49 30.8%
Free-Range/ Organic
Coles Finest Triple Smoked Half Leg Ham (Australian Free-Range)  $12.50  92.6%
The Free Range Butcher’s Easy Carve Pasture Fed Free-Range Ham - Whole Leg  $29.99 362%
Pasture Perfect’s All Natural Free-Range Ham  $28.50 339%
Pasture Perfect’s Organic bone-in leg ham  $46.50  616%
 Aldi’s Berg Provedore Free-Range gourmet ham $12.00 84.8%

[1] A CHOICE shadow of free-range, standard and organic ham was conducted during the week of 16-20 December, 2013. Large retailers such as Aldi, Coles and Woolworths were price checked, as well as gourmet meat outlets.

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