Free Range Standards for eggs, pork and chicken
For a very long time there were no legally enforceable standards for free range in Australia and the term was used indiscriminately in an attempt to take advantage of the growing demand for ethically produced eggs and meat.
Recent changes have seen the introduction of the free range information standard a new law for the labelling of free range eggs. The information standard is a real game changer and has changed the meaning of free range for most of us. Instead of describing animals that have been raised in the outdoors in a pasture based system on a sustainability managed farm, free range now means 10,000 birds per hectare which, in our opinion, is unsustainable, and no need for the hens to go outside. The standard requires that birds are provided 'meaningful access' to the range but also states that the operator does not have to guarantee that they use it.
Which Free Range Certification actually means the animals are free range?
Most independent certification standards are based on animal welfare alone and they include RSPCA Approved and Humane Choice. While Humane Choice is applied to free range operations, the same is not always so for the RSPCA label.
PROOF - Pasture Raised On Open Fields
PROOF is a pastured free range certification that encompasses animal welfare, management of the farm environment and support for the farmer. The focus of PROOF is ensuring that the animals do spend the majority of their time outdoors and on pasture with low stocking rates and small flock sizes.
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme
The paw of approval is an animal welfare only program. The RSPCA Approved system accredits egg farms to RSPCA standards. Barn laid eggs can be RSPCA Approved, therefore not all RSPCA Approved farms allow hens access to an outdoor area. RSPCA also accredits 'bred free range' or 'outdoor bred raised on straw' pork production systems that are not true free range. Look for a stocking density of 1500 or less for hens and the words free range on the labels. It is not always possible to research the farms yourself as RSPCA does not require that the brands they promote disclose the source of their animals.
Egg Corp Assured (ECA) Australian Egg Corporation
This is an egg industry owned certification scheme and the one you are most likely to find on eggs in the major supermarkets. It can be applied to caged, barn or free range eggs. Australian Egg Corporation endorse the new free range information standard of 10,000 hens per hectare.
APIQ Free Range - Australian Pork Limited
This is a pork industry owned certification scheme and the one that you will most likely find on pork in the major supermarkets. The standards are a little hard for the everyday person to follow but the scheme does require pigs have access to the outdoors but there is no limit to stocking densities.
Buying True Free Range Eggs, Pork and Chicken
If it is important to you that the food you buy was raised ethically and that the animals spent their days grazing on pasture in a healthy farm environment, you really do need to ask for proof. Find a certification that meets your expectations for free range. If your expectations are high, we suggest you stop looking for free range and seek out pastured eggs, pork and chicken.
You will find the PROOF Core Values and Standards here.