FRENZ, New Zealand’s free-range pioneers, are supporting political calls to end ‘wild west’ free range food labelling, but warn any new policies may fail to protect consumer expectations. Today when Kiwi customers stand in the supermarkets before a plethora of free range brands, they have no assurance that the humble hens that laid those eggs ever see the light of day, let alone freely roam green pastures.
Rob Darby, FRENZ Director, maintains that if the industry is serious about cutting out false free range claims, then it must go beyond political posturing and enact change that benefits both consumers and the hardworking hens.
“We believe it’s the duty of the New Zealand government, whoever that may be after election day, to come up with a believable and sustainable definition for free range,” said Darby.
“Only then can there be value for customers, both here and overseas, who buy into and support a free range New Zealand product.”
Darby said ’free range’ and ‘sustainability’ should not be allowed to be used as clever marketing terms to confuse customers and make bigger margins for dishonest suppliers.
He has outlined what FRENZ believe should be the minimum requirements for genuine free range in order to be true to label:
- Free range must mean free to range at all times.
At present, it is common for hens to be shut in if the farmer thinks it is too windy, too hot, too cold, too wet, too sunny, too “whatever”. Free range hens should be able to roam at all times to produce eggs that bring us the best from the pasture – it’s the ‘early bird that catches the worm’.
- Free Range paddocks and pasture must be sustainable to farm hens all day, every day.
It is the animals that determine how much land they require. Simply put, placing more animals on land that cannot sustain them all year round is ‘unsustainable’ and leads to compromise.
After three decades of farming free range hens sustainably on the same pasture, FRENZ holds the highest free range standards in New Zealand. Darby believes they have perfected a sustainable formula of maximum birds per shed and range.
“If we can do it, other ‘free range’ suppliers can and should be legislated to do what they say, and be truly free range,” said Darby.
“Producers shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind terms like ‘best practice’ or ‘industry standard’ when current best practice has no legal benchmark.”