What is free-range?

What is free-range?

Next to 'organic' foods, we have this thing called 'free-range'. The scope of labels on free-range foods are very confusing and too many companies are giving the impression that their brand is free-range when it is not (just a 'little' something called green-washing).

Photography Credit: Yefy Mets

The UK government has approved plenty of certification bodies to keep an eye out for these practices. Examples of these institutions are the RSPCA, the British Lion Free Range and the Soil Association. All of them use different standards for their labels on meat, eggs and dairy products.

Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) has released a grading system to assess each of these certification bodies. Because even if we think we're doing really well by buying free-range labelled brands, some of them aren't as free as they appear to be.

The only eggs that are certified by a regulated system are chicken eggs. This means that eggs from ducks, geese and other poultry have not (yet) been certified by any free-range or organic institutions. Depending on the label, the free range hens have certain restrictions to time spent indoors, a limit to the amount of hens per square meter and their food has to be of a certain standard. The eggs of the British Lion Free Range label only receive 33 points out of 100 according to the CIWF – their hens really don’t get that much freedom. The RSPCA label receives 63 points and The Soil Association 70.

Please make sure to buy organic or RSPCA regulated milk. Many dairy cows have health problems because they have been bred to yield higher amounts of milk. It's better to choose organic instead of 'free-range' as the latter specifies that the animals need to spend half their life outdoors, but it's very difficult for farmers to promise this, due to bad weather and other circumstances. If you choose organic, farmers insure better welfare for their cows than any 'free-range' label.

There seem to be an endless amount of labels for meat products and the points given by CIWF differ for every animal. The regulations for chickens allow a maximum of 13 hens per square meter and access to the open air for half their life. Look for the 'Good Chicken Award' from CIWF on the packaging and you know those chickens had a pretty good life. There is no legal definition for 'free range pork' and because of that the CIWF says to look out for organic brands instead: Scottish Organic Producers Association and the RSPCA labels are safe. Cows and sheep already spend most of their time outdoors. To pick the best products look for the animals that were grass-fed and choose products with the Soil Association Organic Meat Label.


The Guardian

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