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ACCC cracks down on claims of 'free range' pork -

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DAVID MARK: Free range pig farmers have welcomed a competition watchdog crackdown on the misuse of the terms "free range" and "bred free range" in the pork industry.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) has found some companies were using the terms even though their pigs were raised indoors rather than outside.

Free range pork producers have been complaining about the use of the term for years, and say the ACCC's decision justifies their concerns.

Will Ockenden reports.

WILL OCKENDEN: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has cracked down on the way pork is sold and labelled in Australia

It has found that many consumers who've been making the choice to buy some free range products, thinking that the pigs were raised outdoor on a free range, have been misled.

The ACCC chairman is Rod Sims

ROD SIMS: We felt that consumers would think that terms like free range or bred free range or bred outdoors would lead consumers to think that the pork they were eating came from pigs who were outside most of the time, when in fact that wasn't the case.

So now we've got undertakings that will see various producers change their terminology and make very clear to consumers what the situation is.

WILL OCKENDEN: He says the farming reality was different from the label.

ROD SIMS: Often the sows, as it were the mother of the pigs, was indeed free range, but the piglet and then the pig that was eventually was slaughtered to make the pork was largely living indoors in a barn.

So the label was, if you like, attaching to the sow, but the piglet itself was reared in the barn and so we felt that wasn't what consumers would understand the term to mean.

WILL OCKENDEN: As a result of its investigation, the ACCC found pork products from Primo Smallgoods, KR Castlemaine, and Otway Pork were misleading.

Some products were labelled as "free range" and "bred free range", but the pigs were raised indoors.

Rod Sims says claiming to be free range in those cases isn't fair to the consumer, or to free range farmers.

ROD SIMS: Consumers do place value on it and pay more for something that ultimately they're not getting.

I think at least as important a problem is that those farmers that do have free range pigs and there are farmers that do just that and indeed some of those are the complainants here, they lose out because they're competing with people who aren't breeding their pigs in a free range environment and of course, or aren't raising them in a free range environment and of course, it's much more expensive to do so than it is to keep them in a barn.

So it's a very important competition issue as well as a consumer issue.

WILL OCKENDEN: Free range pork producer Lee McCosker welcomes the changes.

LEE MCCOSKER: It's a wonderful decision for genuine free range pork producers. It's been a long, long time coming.

WILL OCKENDEN: Why do you think it is deceptive?

LEE MCCOSKER: It leads the consumer to believe that the animal has led its life outdoors, free range, when in fact it was only ever the sow or the mother pig that lives outdoors and her progeny or her piglets are moved back inside into sheds or in any case in shelters at about 21 days of age.

WILL OCKENDEN: Over the last few years, the ACCC has also been cracking down on mislabelling in the chicken meat industry such as around the term "free to roam"

ACCC chairman Rod Sims says the watchdog's work in the farm labelling area is creating change.

ROD SIMS: I think a lot of inroads have been made. I don't think in any way we've changed consumer views about what they thought they were getting. When they see the term free range, they expect they're getting either a chicken outside or a pig outside, so their expectations are the same.

But I think they were sceptical that they were getting what they were paying for and hopefully now they can see that someone's applying the law to make sure that that's indeed the case, and I think industry is most importantly taking notice and adapting their production methods.

DAVID MARK: That's Rod Sims from the ACCC, ending Will Ockenden's report.