Trying to clarify Free Range

Free-Range-HeadingIn South Africa there is still no official legislation in place for free-range and organic. There is a limited form of control under the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). DAFF is currently reviewing legislation for finalising it and methods of production are being created for claims such as organic and free range but not for conventional farming methods.

Read through some of the specifications/protocols that each supplier adheres to and see which products you would feel more confident in purchasing. Which are window dressing and which sound like they authentically care about the wellbeing of their animals and the integrity of their products.

Producers and suppliers are careful as to choice of words such as “free to roam” and “freedom to express normal behaviour” without really stating what that means.

EDUCATION-FARM-MOP

There are numerous studies  which state that grass-fed animals have two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals. Pigs raised on pasture have 300 percent more vitamin E and 74 percent more selenium in their milk than pigs raised in confinement.

The trademarks are audited by Samic who is assigned by the National Department of Agriculture Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF)  to audit trademarks on behalf of them. The last time I checked, SAMIC held over 24 different protocols for the Free Range method of production. How is a consumer to know which free range protocol is being made use of on any particular product?

Below definitions provided by the food producer to SAMIC may assist somewhat but there are more questions than answers right now since some of the protocols are not informative enough and some are even closed to consumer viewing. They are private intellectual properties.

Certified Karoo Meat of Origin
“The Certification Mark will only be used in connection with sheep meat (mutton and lamb), regardless of breed, produced and slaughtered in the Karoo region as defined in the specifications. Only sheep originating from (that is, born in) the Karoo, or, alternatively, that is born outside the Karoo but remained in the area of the Karoo for a continuous period of at least 6 months immediately before slaughter, and which are free of scheduled diseases will qualify for certification.

The reputation or distinctive character of the meat derives from free range grazing or production on indigenous veldt vegetation. Hence only sheep that feeds freely from indigenous veldt, in sizeable camps representative of the identified typical Karoo vegetation, and has access to clean water, qualifies for certification.

Sheep originating from feedlots does not qualify for certification; free range grazing or production is a specific requirement for certification.

Likewise, meat from sheep that are mainly reared on cultivated or planted pastures, does not qualify for certification.”

Woolworths Free Range
“Woolworths Free Range Beef and Lamb and Pork are sourced from farmers who are known for good management of their flocks, farming by traditional natural methods, have good record systems and do not use a feed lot, growth promoters, and routine antibiotics and feed animal by-products and is based on the following 5 freedoms:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. This includes natural shelters on extensive ranges. Farming with well adapted animals for a particular area is also strongly recommended
  • Freedom from pain, disease or injury – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of an animal’s own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and care which avoid mental suffering.

Our farms and abattoirs are routinely audited by SAMIC to ensure compliance to Woolworths standards.”

Cape Veld Beef
“For any pure beef breed or beef/dairy cross, but not a pure dairy animal to qualify as Cape Veld the following conditions need to apply on the farm on which it was raised.

  • No grain,
  • No routine antibiotics, (in the case of emergency and if the vet 
has prescribed antibiotics they can be used but the animal can only be slaughtered at a minimum of 14 days after the end of the withdrawal period recommended by the vet.
  • No growth hormones,
  • The animal lived its entire life on natural veld or planted pasture,
  • The animal must have access to clean water at all times,
  • The animal must be branded at 6 months with the farmer’s 
brandmark,
  • The animals cannot be weaned before 120 days of age,
  • Supplements allowed include non-grain based mineral and 
vitamin blocks or granules, kelp, salt, molasses and flax seeds 
grown without pesticides or herbicides,
  • All veterinary treatments must be documented for each animal 
and records must be available for inspection,
  • Humane animal handling procedures must be used throughout the animals life,
  • If ultrasound inspection is conducted, finished animals should have at least 5mm of back fat and an ultrasound tenderness score of 2.5 or less,
  • Normal slaughter (Electric stimulation according to manufacturer specification is a requirement) and butchery.”

 

Spier Pasture Reared
“For any pure beef breed or beef/dairy cross, but not a pure dairy animal to qualify as Spier Pasture Reared, the following conditions need to apply on the Spier Wine Farm, Stellenbosch on which it is raised and or finished.

  • The animals are moved a minimum of once per day to fresh grazing,
  • The pasture must contain a minimum of 10 species of grasses and/or 
legumes,
  • No grain in the diet,
  • No antibiotics, (in the case of emergency, Vitamin C, is to be applied 
intravenously).
  • No added growth hormones,
  • The animal lived its entire life on natural veld or planted pasture,
  • The animal must have access to clean water at all times,
  • The animal must be branded at 6 months with the farmer’s
brandmark,
  • The animals cannot be weaned before 120 days of age,
  • Supplements allowed include non-grain based mineral and vitamin blocks or granules, kelp, salt, molasses and flax seeds grown without pesticides or herbicides,
  • All veterinary treatments must be documented for each animal and records must be available for inspection,
  • For deworming purposes only Apple Cider Vinegar can be used. 30ml per 45kgs of body weight if directly fed or 7 litres per 1,000 litres of water,
  • Humane animal handling procedures must be used,
  • If ultrasound inspection is conducted, finished animals should have at least 5mm of back fat and an ultrasound tenderness score of 2.5 or less,
  • Normal slaughter (Electric stimulation according to manufacturer specification is a requirement.) and butchery.”

See more suppliers here: http://www.samic.co.za/trademarks.html

CattleBackground

 

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity (eategrity.co.za) “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.

3 thoughts on “Trying to clarify Free Range

  • October 14, 2015 at 5:54 am
    Permalink

    are predator friendly measures included in the free range meat label – particularly of Karoo lamb? As for Woolworths – couldn’t they come up with their own standards instead of simply copying from SPCA! Their standards seem to pale in comparison to the others..

    Reply
    • October 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm
      Permalink

      no I don’t think that predator control methods are included in any of the free range protocols but that is a good question and I will be asking SAMIC. Saying that though, sadly even potato growers should need to list methods of predator control as some cull porcupines which are destructive to their crops. Food labels really should tell more of the story. Woolworths have claimed to abide by NSPCA standards for years which are actually far more robust than the simple five freedoms, NSPCA had to request that Woolworths remove this misleading statement more than once.

      Reply

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