Greenvale Farm – Truly free range Victorian pork
Sourcing truly free range or organic pork products can be a tad challenging, but we reckon it’s worth the effort, especially when learning that pigs are one of the most poorly treated animals here in Australia, with over 90% of pork products coming from factory farms where pregnant sows are often confined in sow stalls they cannot even turn around in.
When did you last spot a pig roaming in a paddock when driving through the countryside?
Pork goes by many aliases and is a ‘filler’ in many products: ham, salami, prosciutto, bacon, sausages, bolognaise, frankfurts, crackling, dim dims, dumplings… the list goes on. It can creep into your diet more than you think, so it pays to be vigilant.
Our top tip is to eat pork sparingly and when you do, go to the effort of sourcing it from truly free range producers. It may be a tad pricier, but the taste is far superior, you’ll need less and you can be confident that the pigs had a better life.
What is free range?
When it comes to pork, free-range means the pigs are free to roam outdoors in paddocks with access to huts and shelter, from the day they are born until slaughter. There can be no sow stalls or farrowing crates. In other words, free-range pigs are happier pigs.
Unfortunately there is currently no legal definition of free-range for pigs in Australia, however late last year the ACCC cracked down on misuse of the term, which is a positive step in making our food system a little more transparent (more on this below).
Where to buy pork – a hierarchy
1. Direct from the free-range or organic farmer
At a farmers’ market or at the farm-gate. You can ask as many questions as you like and even visit the farm if you ask really nicely.
A little note on colour: When exposed to air, meat actually discolours to a grey/brown colour. Preservatives are then used to make it that appealing rosy-pink colour we’re used to seeing in ham. If you want your Christmas feast preservative free, ask for nitrate and nitrite-free.
The Age Epicure has also recently released their guide to Australia’s best ham: Good Food Christmas ham taste test 2016 – note that not all listed are free range.
2. From a free-range/organic butcher
Check out our Ethical Meat Directory for a good start.
3. From a supermarket or retailer
It can sometimes be hard to find free-range options at large retailers, so use our ‘What to look for in labelling’ guide below.
What to look for in labelling
Food labels can be a minefield with marketing lingo taking priority over the truth. Here are labels to look for and what they mean.
|This pink label advertising Australian pork does not mean it is free range, it is simply an indication that the pig was raised in Australia. If there is no other detail then it has most likely been raised indoors in an intensive piggery (sad face). Remember, 90% of Australian pork still comes from factory farms.|
|The Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ) has a certification program. When a producer has gone through this process they will have the following logo visible on their product. This assures you that the pigs were raised outdoors according to Free Range Standards.|
|Formerly termed bred free-range until ACCC cracked down on this terminology, as they believed it misled consumers to believe it was free range (Go the ACCC!).Certified outdoor bred, raised indoors on straw means that sows (mother pigs) are kept outdoors for their entire life as per Free Range Standards. Piglets are born and raised under Free Range Standards until weaned (3-4 weeks), they are then moved to large open-sided sheds where they live out their days (they do not go outdoors again).
Although this style of farming is a vast improvement on traditional factory farming or intensive systems, it is not considered free range.
All certified organic and bio-dynamic meat producers are also free range, due to the strict nature of organic certification. All their feed is organic and so is the farming system, which means no GM grains are used nor any synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or antibiotics.The only catch may be if they claim to be organic but with no certification logo. This sometimes indicates that ‘organic’ is referring to the feed given to the animals, not the farming system. This will become apparent when closely reading the label.
|RSPCA Standards do not require pigs to have access to an outdoor or range area, which means that the RSPCA seal alone does not guarantee the pigs are free range.The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme also covers indoor systems where all pigs are kept inside and combination systems where, for example, breeding pigs (sows and boars) have access to a range or outdoor area and growing pigs are kept in indoor systems.
The use of sow stalls and farrowing crates is prohibited under RSPCA approved systems, with all pigs housed indoors raised in group housing pens.
The RSPCA stipulates a minimum space requirement for each pig ranging from 22cm2 for a 10kg pig – 1.16m2 for a 120kg pig.
Although the space allocation and removal of sow stalls and farrowing crates is a vast improvement on current intensive systems, it still doesn’t seem like enough when considering the assumed welfare standards attributed to the RSPCA brand.
|From a farmers’ market, Small producer, Direct from the farm
Many small producers cannot afford the cost and time burden of formal certification, however, are all-too-willing to chat to you about their farming practices. Most farmers’ markets have strict requirements around the types of producers they allow. Also, many small producers choose to raise rare-breed pigs, so when you see this listed it is often indicative of a free range farming system (although never a guarantee). The closer to the source you buy your food, the more you will know and the more questions you can ask!
|No mention of free range or any certification
If there is no mention of free range, then you can be almost certain it has come from a factory farmed environment.There is also a lot of imported pork in Australia, where such standards may not apply or vary greatly from country to country, so it’s worth doing some research online.
A little bit on factory farming to keep you inspired to support free range
Factory, or intensive indoor pig farming, is the predominant form of farming in Australia.
- This equates to a whopping 90% of our pork products being factory farmed.
- Pigs never get to go outdoors in these farming systems.
- In factory farming, pregnant sows are confined to individual metal sow stalls, which are so small they can’t even turn around (above). Some farms are converting to sow stall free farming, however the sows are still housed indoors in confined ‘group housing’ stalls and farrowing crates are still used.
- Once piglets are born, the sow and the piglets are transferred to a farrowing crate, which restricts the sow’s movement to the point she is unable to interact with her young (above).
- Once the piglets have matured, the sow is impregnated again, and the cycle continues.
So there you have it, a round-up of how to purchase your pork and Christmas ham with an extra dose of kindness. And remember, if you don’t know where it came from, eat veg instead!
Pork not your thing?
How about you brave a vegetarian Christmas, our co-founder Cassie hosted one for her meat-loving family and lived to tell the tale. Check out her menu here.
For everything you need to know about sourcing free range turkey products visit Gobble Gobble your Turkey Wisely this Christmas