Author Topic: Consumers duped by RSPCA, farmers claim 9.1.2012  (Read 901 times)

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Consumers duped by RSPCA, farmers claim 9.1.2012
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2012, 11:28:14 AM »
Consumers duped by RSPCA, farmers claim
Alexandra Smith
January 9, 2012

FREE-RANGE farmers are urging the consumer watchdog to investigate the RSPCA's standards for pork sold in supermarkets, warning the RSPCA logo dupes consumers into thinking that they are buying free-range products.

Humane Choice, which accredits free-range egg, beef and pork farms, has lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, alleging the RSPCA's labelling is misleading.

The RSPCA revised its approved farming scheme for pigs in August, removing references to the term ''free-range'' when it classified and labelled pig production systems.

Some farmers and animal welfare groups have warned that consumers are being misled by the labelling but the RSPCA said its scheme was designed to improve the welfare of as many farm animals as possible.

Lee McCosker, a spokeswoman for Humane Choice, said consumers would see the RSPCA logo on pork and assume it was ''true free-range'' even though the products could be from pigs raised in ''terrible conditions''.

Ms McCosker said the RSPCA had a commercial arrangement with companies and received 2 per cent of sales.

''This is animal welfare for sale,'' Ms McCosker, a free-range pig and egg producer, said.

Matt Simmons, who produces free-range pork at Ebenezer in the Hawkesbury region, said he was concerned that consumers would be paying a premium for a product that was not what they assumed it to be.

''Just because a pig is outdoors, it does not mean consumers are getting what they expect from free-range,'' he said.

Many of the country's largest pork suppliers, including Coles and Primo Fresh Pork, pay the RSPCA to accredit their pork, which allows them to display the RSPCA logo on products on store shelves.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said there were no legal definitions for production systems in the pork industry, so it was up to individual brands to choose how products were labelled.

''We believe it is important that, in association with the government, the pig industry develops and agrees on appropriate production system descriptors that meet consumer expectations and can be legally defined.''

But the RSPCA denied there was a commercial gain for it and said the royalties it received were used to pay the costs of assessing farms, which happens twice a year in the case of pigs.

The spokeswoman said the RSPCA's logo had been applied to approved products sourced from a number of production systems - and labelled barn-laid, barn-raised, free-range, and bred free-range - for the past 10 years. She said the standards were ''much more than whether an animal has access to the outdoors''.

Under the new scheme, all breeding animals and piglets live outdoors until they are weaned, and then the pigs to be used for fresh pork spend the next 15 weeks with access to the outdoors or indoors in large straw-filled sheds.

But the Greens MP John Kaye said the RSPCA was allowing its reputation to be used to dupe consumers. ''The RSPCA is allowing pig producers and large supermarket chains to use [its] good name to imply a level of animal welfare that is not justified by the extraordinarily high stocking densities,'' Dr Kaye said.

''Shoppers would be appalled,'' he said, ''to learn that the so-called 'outdoor' pork they purchase involved cramming two growing pigs into less than a square metre.''

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