Free-range. Free-farmed. Subtle name variations, huge differences
Like us, you’ve probably stood in the butchery section of the supermarket or even in your local butchery and been bombarded with packaging boasting terms like Free Range, Free Farmed, Pasture-Promise, Grass-Fed, Cage-Free and Sustainably Produced. So what’s the difference and does it matter? The answer is most definitely yes.
In New Zealand, 20% of pigs are free-farmed, while only 1% of pigs are raised free-range. Harmony likes being the 1% - farming to the highest ethical standards and with care and love for the environment and the animals.
A lack of consistency around NZ’s food safety regulations has meant the lines are blurred around many terms commonly used on butchery packaging, including free-range and free-farmed. It’s no wonder there’s confusion at the chiller.
To demystify the terminology that has now become commonplace, let’s start with what free-range and free-farmed aren’t.
They’re not conventional
Conventional farming methods are all about high production and reproduction numbers of animals, low labour requirements, low land use and a low feed requirements.
Using pork as an example, conventional farming methods include keeping stock inside a pig stye - usually a very small space with concrete industrial flooring. Some farms sterilise their pigs to curb the aggression using hormone injections – sometimes numbering up to 28 jabs per pig. (have to mention that this is a US practice) Conventional farming is focused on low cost production for bulk, low value products.
Bursting the ‘free-farmed’ bubble
There is a common misconception that free-farmed and free-range carry the same meaning. They don’t and there are big, very big differences, especially around animal welfare.
Some companies use the term free-farmed or freedom-farmed (terms that let’s face it were coined by marketing departments) to confuse consumers into believing they’re buying the real (free-range) deal.
Free-farmed pork farming methods see pigs kept outside, also giving birth to their piglets outside. So far so good. However, after a few weeks, the piglets are weened and sent inside to spend the rest of their lives in a very confined space. And while the inside pen is usually better quality than a conventional pen, the outcome is still the same: pigs end up dirty and stressed come the trip to the processing facility. It’s disingenuous to use the term ‘free’ or ‘freedom’ with this type of farming.
The beauty of free-range farming is that intervention of that type is nowhere to be seen. Pigs are kept outside their whole lives, free to roam in wide open spaces. It’s a better quality of life, the animals are less stressed, they’re more active as they can roam, all of which contributes to a better taste and flavour.
Harmony pork, including our Christmas hams, is sourced from one single farm, just south of Timaru. For the past 10 years Hamish Cottle has been raising Harmony pigs on his 400 hectare farm, grazing them in open fields alongside cattle in the shadow of the Hunter Hills.
Free-range farming also indicates a commitment to raising animals without antibiotics or hormones and on high quality feed – Hamish feeds his pigs the best grain feed available in the Southern Hemisphere. Every of his 1,500 pigs has a pasture playground, free to roam and with roughly 100m2 each to spread out in, they’re happy as proverbial pigs in mud.
So next time you’re at the chiller, pick up the ethical free-range pork because as it turns out, it’s also the most delicious.