Free-range Labelling in South Africa: No harm, no ‘fowl’?

To get clarification on the subject, I consulted Lara Wybrow from Ethical Suppliers South Africa. The expert stresses that in respect to South Africa’s red meat industry there are free-range protocols as monitored by SAMIC. These differ just like poultry from supplier to supplier. If you look at  Spier’s Free Range Protocol and compare them with Woolworths specifications, you will see that they are different. Whereas Spier’s is quite detailed, Woolworths only talks about the five freedoms.

 Nonetheless, Wybrow remains confident about the future. It’s a step into the right direction for her. She believes that the consumer interest will increase the animal welfare standards as time progresses. From her perspective, anything is better than feedlots, battery hen systems and pigs and other animals being kept indoors 24/7, never seeing grass, mud, the sun or fresh air. Nonetheless, she is especially concerned about the low standards for free-range chicken farming.

She says that the main difference between the two (free-range and non) is the amount of chickens allowed per square meter. “With free-range they need access to an outside pasture area. But the problem is that because of overcrowded conditions, sometimes the chickens don’t go outside anyway as they are too scared to leave the food and water because they have to fight their way back. Or the doors are too small so the chickens don´t even know there is an outside area! I know this sounds strange but it´s true.”

Her main concern is that there´s only a draft bill on free-range regulations so suppliers and farmers are free to interpret it the way they want. She works with farmers on a daily basis, so I asked her about her experiences.

“I have come across many farmers who think free-range means anything as long as they are not in cages. But they have hugely overcrowded poultry sheds and the chickens never go outside. Chickens need to go outside in a large pasture area where there is sand, grass and shade which farmers often don’t provide. This in turn prevents chickens from roaming outside. Simply keeping them fed and giving them water and shelter is not enough.”

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