“The only way to ensure that the chickens you are eating are genuinely free range is to choose organic,” says Marion Wood, co-chair of the Soil & Health Association. “And what better time to start than during Organic Week which is right now.”
She points out that there is no enforceable industry standard for free-range farming. Farms are regularly audited by the Ministry of Primary Industries for food safety standards, but these standards do not relate to auditing free-range farming practices.
“What this means is that the scope of a ‘free-range’ label on your chickens is actually very wide. People think of happy chickens wandering in a field, but the reality is that the label ‘free range’ can be used by farms that confine their hens to small spaces or subject them to overcrowding. In 2014, it came to light that a farmer had been selling cage eggs as ‘free range’ for over two years – something that slipped under the radar because there was no authority checking such claims.”
But if you choose certified organic chickens, says Soil & Health, you know that the hens are looked after and their quality of life guaranteed because the farms are audited every year.
To get BioGro certification, farms must not have more than 10 hens per square metre in fixed housing or 16 per square metre in mobile sheds. Hens must have unrestricted access to outside runs and access to fresh grass or a forage crop containing a diversity of species. Other organic standards are similar.
Marion Wood suggests everyone makes the change in Organic Week.
“Organic food is grown naturally without the routine use of synthetic pesticides or fertilisers. Certified organic chickens are healthy chickens with a good quality of life – something that the label ‘free-range’ alone doesn’t guarantee.”
Contact: Marion Wood, 022 032 7122