Recently I was called by a third party to be interviewed by an ABC journalist to discuss the issue of what constitutes free range for a possible Tasmanian Stateline program This is an issue that is very important to me & one that is surrounded by confusion as to what actually constitutes free range.
On the surface I was OK about discussing this but then I gleaned that the thrust of the program was to be about exposing one or two producers who are alleged to be selling product that is not free range. This made me uncomfortable & I know one of the producers who had been targeted. I use the word targeted because that is how I feel the show will pan out-that it will be less about the issues of confusing labeling and more about an expose on someone who is allegedly being dishonest.
Whilst I would never condone the misuse of the term free range I feel that all avenues to contact the person(s) who are supposed to be doing this should be fully exercised before running what could be a very damaging story for the producers concerned. The person who called me agreed that this story had the potential to be very damaging & I asked, ‘Is that what you want?’ The reply was ‘No’, which was a relief to hear. I then suggested that this person contact directly the person(s) involved & try to resolve this before the story goes to air.
I understand the motives of the person who contacted me. They feel that their product which is free range is being undercut & devalued by other producers who are using the term free range when in fact they are apparently not so.
The ethical argument here is a no brainer which I fully get. If the labels are incorrectly stating the provenance of the ingredients-then they should be changed to comply, simple as that.
However beyond that, another issue emerges & it could be argued that the motive behind bringing this issue to the forefront & in this case statewide TV show is all about competition between rival businesses.
The question I keep running over in my head is why go to a TV show to get your point across when you haven’t actually contacted the principle person(s) who are allegedly at fault?
I would suggest that the parties concerned have more in common than they think-both are committed to producing quality products & both are passionate about this. There is room for everyone to thrive in this state if we all realize & understandthat there are many of uswho share this passion. This negativity is far too quick to rise to the surface, read the toxic comments on the Mercury website regarding the recent success of the Agrarian Kitchen & Leo Schofields subsequent response to understand the level of venom that exists out there.
I pondered this all day yesterday as I visited several farmers in the area who between them rear, goats, pigs, rabbits & cattle. I witnessed first hand the condition these animals are reared & have to say that in my definition they were free range, with the exception of the rabbits. This is curious because I’m not sure what governing body actually decrees what really is free range & what isn’t? Someone out there might be able to enlighten me. What is does highlight though is that the disparity of views as to what actually constitutes free range.
Another issue brought up by my caller regarded the producer who imported supply of their raw ingredient from the mainland & that somehow this was being dishonest because it was not mentioned on the label. This is not unusual; in fact the example I used to illustrate this point is the Christmas ham. Apparently we in Australia import a huge amount of frozen pork from countries like Canada to be processed here into hams to keep up with the demand over the festive season. Apparently one way to know if your ham is Australian according to my friend Elaine Reeves, is that if it is sold on the bone its Australian because we don't allow ham imported here on the bone.
Public perception is a curious thing though, a well known & respected poulterer here in Tasmania has made a deservedly great name for their product but many people believe that it is also free range but my understanding is that it isn’t. Does this stop me from buying the product?
Another issue I would like to bring up is this increasing chasm between the ideals of humanely rearing animals for consumption & the realities of intensive farming.
Food cost money, good food costs even more money. In my opinion many people simply cannot afford to eat what you & I would call ‘good food’. Does this mean that those who can’t afford ‘good food’ are being unethical? Conversely are those who can afford it ‘elitist’?
I am noticing a bit of consumer backlash against the notion that if all your food purchases aren’t of the sustainable, organic, local or ethical kind, somehow you are not being a good person. This is yet another hurdle for the less well off to deal with, carrying the burden of guilt because they can only afford the dozen eggs at $2.50 rather than the happy chooks dozen at $6.50. More than ever we are made to feel even worse about food.
Just a few thoughts for you to ponder.