Make sure 'free range' is for real

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2014
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JENNIFER SOO/Fairfax Aus
FREE RANGE?: It pays to look closely at labels and do some research.

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Free-range products are taking off in supermarkets but a social responsibility expert says buyers should look deeper than face-value labelling.

Major supermarket chains Pak 'n Save, New World and Countdown are reporting a steady increase in the sale of free range and free-farmed goods over the last five years.

Free-range egg sale volumes at Pak 'n Save and New World have doubled since 2009, and seven-times more free-farmed bacon is being sold.

About 17 per cent of Countdown egg sales are free-range branded products.

However marketing and ethical consumption expert Ekant Veer says labels aren't always what they seem.

Usually free range and free-farmed products are more expensive, but we are also becoming more aware about where our food comes from. However, if times get tough financially, high cost products tend to dip in popularity.

"Free range signifies the animals have had some level of humane existence," Veer says.

"That's becoming more important to people."

Secondly, he says, a move towards locally grown, home-cooked food is encouraging people to entertain at home and buy higher quality products.

For those hunting down the best products for the cleanest conscience, Veer cautions against blindly trusting labels.

"Personally, I don't trust, and wouldn't recommend others trust, labels that aren't third-party verified," Veer says.

With a lack of firm legal regulation around free-range food production, the consumer must dig a little deeper to ensure they know what they're buying.

Veer says in the case of eggs, free range can be a marketing term which everyone interprets differently. He recommends buying eggs with an independent SPCA label, showing the source of the eggs has been inspected and they are cruelty-free. "When it's the producer creating the marketing, then I'd be wary."

Countdown says it has worked with Patoa Farms in North Canterbury to introduce a properly free-farmed pork range, which has the SPCA and PigCare accreditation.

Consumers can also check verification by doing a quick online search of a particular brand to find out more about its production methods.

Veer says it also pays to take note of independently verified Fair Trade products.

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