The Farce of Free Range – Chicken Matters

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2 Mins Read

When it comes to sheer marketing genius, you can’t beat the term ‘free range’. Just the very words conjure up wonderful images of pastoral landscapes where cheerful, healthy farm animals roam freely on large expanses of apple-green grass. The free range branding gurus – make no mistake, free range is now a very well managed brand  – have cleverly educated to believe that when we buy free range products, we are buying a better life for farm animals who sacrifice themselves for our meat and dairy products. Marketers want you to think that animals raised in a free range environment get to run around in large fields all day, have access to sunshine and blue skies as well as clean air and pristine water.

 

Consumers who can afford it don’t hesitate to vote free range with their supermarket dollar. It’s an easy decision, especially when the basic supermarket brand/non-free range choice feels like we are cheating our health and the planet, while the pricey organic option makes reaching for the wallet a real effort, one many of us cannot afford in these times of recession. Free range sits right in the middle. It’s just right: not as expensive as organic but a much better alternative than buying a product where the welfare of the animals is not even considered in the equation.

 

Except it’s pretty much complete and utter rubbish. We are being fooled by the clever marketers with their poetic terms that trick us into spending more for nothing. Free range is not backed up by viable government certification or even by any agricultural/big food industry standard. The USDA does have a free range ‘stamp’ but all it denotes is that an animal was allowed access to the ‘outside, ’ which can also just mean an uncovered area. It does not provide regulations for any of the following:

 

  • -the quality of the water the animal has access to
  • -whether animals are kept in non polluted environment
  • -the quality of the feed of the animal
  • -for how long is the animal allowed outside
  • -the size of the space where the animal is allowed outside
  • -whether the animal was administered antibiotics and/or hormones

 

Consumers must be aware of the emptiness of this label and must make purchasing decisions based on certifications with claims that are backed up independently and through testing. While there are brands and farmers who take the term free range very seriously and follow strict practices to raise their animals in the best environment (especially in countries like New Zealand, Australia and France), the onus remains on the consumer to inform her/himself.


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