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What Does Free Range Mean to You?

There has been some talk in the media and at the markets recently about Free Range and exactly how ‘free’ is the ‘range’. When we first started the business and we were thinking of a name, we sent out a sample of our top five names to family and friends. The Free Range Butcher was not among them. In a moment of disappointment as we realised the web address of our desired name was not available, we had to go back to basics…let’s name the business after what we do. We produce free range meat and we are butchers. Sorted.

What is Free Range?

My idea of Free Range is animals in the open, feet on the ground, eating grass and sleeping under trees; I’m sure that your thoughts are similar. Essentially an animal free to do as it pleases and display its natural behaviours.

Since being in the meat industry I have learnt that not all is as it seems. The poultry and pork industry seem to be the worst, and the issue seems to me that the deception starts from the top. Industry bodies and associations can be full of the biggest stakeholders in the industry. Companies that have tens of thousands of animals. For this conversation let’s call them ‘The Big Boys’. The reality is, when the Big Boys change, it is only ever reactionary; to increase sales because customer perceptions or ideals are changing. The best way for them to increase profit is minimum system changes, and therefore capital outlay, but maximum perception of change at the shopping centre. Let’s take Free Range Pork as an example. I have been in a large supermarket chain and seen pork labelled ‘Free Range’. I might be getting ahead of myself, but I think I know a fair few of the Free Range pork producers in NSW, and I know that if we all got together there is still no way we could supply the amount of pork needed to fill these supermarket shelves. This is simply not Free Range Pork as you think it is. But it is Free Range Pork as the so called ‘standards’ allow, and guess who influenced and made up the standards, yes the Big Boys. Added to this, labelling laws fall short of the mark in many cases. 20, 000 chooks per hectare is like 20 blokes in a lift…mmm spacious. Not.

The only real way to ensure the food you are eating is what you think it is, is to ask the question; call the hotline or better still, talk to the producer…I’m at the markets every weekend!

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