‘Bred free range’ is NOT ‘free range’

‘Do you have free-range pork?’

‘Yes, it’s all free range!’

‘Oh, excellent! Which farm is it from?’

‘Otway Pork.’

‘Otway’s not free range.’


This has become a regular occurrence for me. Next I school the butcher, providore, or waiter on the difference between ‘bred free range’ (aka ‘outdoor bred’) and ‘free range’ and suggest they have a look at Otway’s website, where they themselves clearly state that they are ‘bred free range’. Ditto Western Plains.

Confused yet? Fair enough. Fortunately, I’m here to help. 😉 Let me explain the three systems for raising pigs we have in Australia so you need not be confused anymore.


Pigs are kept indoors their entire lives on concrete or slatted floors. In some systems the breeders are kept in individual pens with limited movement. In others pigs are kept in groups. Some of these systems use both group and individual pens. The industry is moving away from gestation stalls (where sows are kept immobile for their entire gestation period of 3 months, 3 weeks & 3 days) due to consumer demand for higher welfare standards.

Outdoor Bred (aka ‘Bred Free Range’)

Breeding sows are kept outdoors, and farrow (give birth) in huts with access to the paddocks until they’re weaned, typically at 4 weeks. The weaners are then kept in groups in open-sided straw-based sheds, also called ‘eco-shelters’, where they spend the rest of their lives until slaughter.

Free Range

All pigs are raised entirely outdoors, with free access to shelter and wallows at all times.

Within these three systems for raising pigs in Australia, there is diversity amongst farm management strategies in regards to tail docking, castration, vaccinations, weaning, sub-therapeutic antibiotics in feed, sow management, age for slaughter, and stocking density.

The peak body for pig farmers Australia Pork Limited (APL) has clear definitions for each system, and sets (voluntary) standards through the Australia Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ). There are standards for ‘APL Gestation Stall Free’, ‘Outdoor Bred’, and ‘Free Range’.  As I understand it, after much discussion within the industry, APL endorsed ‘outdoor bred’ and rejected ‘bred free range’ as a label as it was deemed confusing for consumers who are trying to choose free range.

Unfortunately, most outdoor bred growers are still using the term ‘bred free range’ on their marketing materials, and butchers and provedores just as much as consumers are often confused by the distinction (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t intentionally misleading customers).

In three separate butcher’s shops over the past two months I have asked where their pork labeled free-range was from and been told either Otway Pork or Western Plains, which are outdoor bred systems, not free range. I know of others who have had the same experience. I always tell the butcher that they’re wrong, and they apologise and profess ignorance.

I’m not interested in critiquing butchers, nor intensive or outdoor bred systems here, but I am interested in eaters being able to make informed choices. As I’ve written before, ethical decision-making is deeply reliant on the availability of accurate information. If you understand the difference in the systems and which one is in front of you, you can decide for yourself whether you are happy with that animal welfare standard. But if you are misled about the system, someone is taking that choice away from you, and you shouldn’t stand for it.

I recommend that for those who truly want only free-range pork, you do a couple of simple things:

1) always ask whether the pork is free range, whether it’s on a menu, in a butcher’s shop, or in a deli;

2) if they say it’s free range, ask the name of the farm. If it’s Otway or Western Plains, it’s not free range (there are other outdoor bred growers as well, but these two are by far the largest in Victoria);

3) print this out and take it to your butcher, cafe, or deli if they tell you an outdoor bred farm is free range – they may simply not know the difference.

4) buy direct from farmers, either at farmer’s markets or online. I have a list of free-range pig farms in Australia, as does Flavour Crusader.

Choice is great. We can all choose how we want to eat, and what sort of farming we support, so long as we can rely on accurate information. You may choose intensively-raised or free-range pork, caged or pastured eggs, conventional or organic fruit and veg, or a wholly vegan diet, but not if those of us who produce and sell the food don’t tell you the truth of what’s in it.

Published by

Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a PhD candidate, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and would-be cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community...

19 thoughts on “‘Bred free range’ is NOT ‘free range’”

  1. This is such an important post, Tammi!

    For ACT and Southern NSW residents, beware Bundawarrah Pork market stalls and Lost River market stalls/shops.

    Bundawarrah told me in person that they have moved to “Bred Free Range” as they had too much stock loss. Hmmm.

    As for Lost River, they grow their own lamb and beef but not pork or chicken. My own investigations have convinced me their pork is not true FR.

  2. Getting our production systems naming descriptors correct is critical on a number of levels. I encounter many people buying genuine free range from me when maybe their budgets may be stretched but knowing they are buying a Genuine Free Range product that will have the flavour they are looking for. In a retail environment where they are just being told its free range and may not be they are actually wasting their hard earnt money on a product which may not be up to the quality they are expecting and consequently think thats how all Free Range produce tastes.
    Think of going and buying a porche not knowing its got a skoda engine.

  3. Id also like to add that I believe there is a place for all production systems because of the diversity of peoples requirements. Some people are always just going to shop on price and not concerned about the environment the animal is rasied in. Until there is no longer a demand for plan old cheap food there will always be intensive systems. Lets at least as Tammi say and let people have the choice, call a spade a spade and call pork only “Free range” if the product that is being consumed comes from an animal thats spent its entire life outdoors.

  4. Hi there, as a (permaculture) producer of numerous meat products (scaling up to commercial quantities, but slowly), I can see there are many different descriptors, free range, humane choice, organic, biodynamic etc. For me it’s about sustainability and naturalness of the animal’s life. Hence we are looking into ‘humane choice’ as for me organic can still effectively mean factory farmed, but just with organic inputs, free range does not mean they are not drenched etc…. sorry, more food for thought…

  5. Another nice post thanks Tammi. I think this is another example of how our horribly confusing food labelling regulations can be used to mislead consumers. This is an issue that needs to be constantly brought to consumers attention – loudly & frequently educating the public on just what kind of double-speak is inherent on many labels is a must in my book. People are often surprised when the real facts about what food titles/labels actually mean are brought to their attention.

  6. Posted straight on my Facebook Page to share! And please don’t even start me on Coles ‘sow stall free’. Its very disappointing that my local Coles has gotten rid of its limited ‘bred free range’ range (better than nothing!) and it the actual real ‘free range’ salami and replaced it with the lower welfare sow stall free (from what I understand after sending 2 emails to coles- just your regular intensive indoor system minus sow stalls). Ok so they have made a committment to all products being ‘sow stall free’ but that was probably just the writing on the wall – with legislation in Tas etc to ban sow stalls. I am guessing people who did by ‘bred free range’ thought that was free range and that sow stall free is also somehow equivalent.

  7. The problem is, the APL standards aren’t enforceable by law anyway, so none of the labels have any meaning, and there will be variability between systems and whether they castrate/tail-dock/ear-notch/teeth-clip without anaesthetic anyway. The idea of “informed choice” doesn’t exist. http://freerangefraud.com/free-range-fraud/ The only way to avoid overt animal cruelty is to go vegan.

  8. Julian, I think you’re on the wrong page. This is a place for much more nuanced thinking about food ethics than ‘just go vegan’. By your reasoning above, the only way to avoid breathing polluted air is to stop breathing, and the only way to solve issues in the food system is through regulation. Perhaps you should spend less time trolling animal farmers and more time developing your capacity for systems thinking.

  9. Actually the only way to avoid breathing polluted air IS to stop breathing. The key difference is that we need to breathe, but we have absolutely no requirement to consume animal products (as demonstrated by millions of vegans), so your analogy is very poorly thought out.

  10. (Also, for you to compare acts of animal cruelty to something as minute as breathing in traces of everyday toxins shows that you are trivialising the issue of animal cruelty)

  11. Great post Tam, we face the same issues with genuine cultured butter and IBA commercial butter not to mention buttermilk and the stuff in the supermarket labeled as buttermilk, having been nowhere near butter. Unfortunately it is only the little producers that actually produce it traditionally and much of the ‘industry standard’ is a basterdised version that can be manufactured quicker with less variation of season or skill. Education can only be one person at a time, some want to know others don’t care, we can only try and stay true to ourselves. Keep up the good work x

  12. We need more information out in the public arena, education to all, including children is important. Ignorance is not a option! Animals have feelings, how we humans treat them say’s more about society. Thanks for your information I actually believed I bought true free range meat, now no longer.

  13. I notice that you have gooralie listed as free range when they are outdoor bred? Thought you may have overlooked this. Cheers J

  14. Hi Jae,

    Thanks so much for picking that up for me – I’ve had a look through the website and see that they are clearly bred free range, even though their own name is ‘Gooralie Free Range’. I’ll send that one to the ACCC as well. Thank you!

  15. I understand that this conversation is old, but I love this thread of comments in the context of Tammi’s latest post about fairness and ethics in farming. She makes the point that what she does is viewed as ethical by her, and by extension what some others do is seen as unethical. What Julian is basically doing in this thread is saying that he sees Tammi’s methods as unethical, highlighting the enormous amount of grey area when discussing ethics.

    Actually, though we call this “ethical farming”, and I refer to my practices the same way, this is really more a question of morality. It’s for that reason that these two schools of thought can never agree.

    I absolutely see the point-of-view of vegetarians and vegans, and abhor the mistreatment of animals. My response to that is to grow my own, love them, nurture them, and then be 100% sure that they are killed humanely, up-to-and-including killing them myself where practical. This is both ethically sound and morally acceptable to me. However, it’s not morally acceptable to somebody like Julian, which is why we can have absolutely identical motives for our points-of-view, but the result can be literally opposites.

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