Monday, March 29, 2010

Whats on the label?

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.


Lucy said...

A topical post, Steve.

In short, there is no governing body re the labelling of free range products. Lateline did an excellent story on this the other night, which you can view on their website:

However, I think there's a massive difference between 'good food' and ethical food. Buying Bruny Island Cheese (for instance) to me is 'good food' whereas free range eggs is an ethical choice. I've always bought free range eggs even though I've had periods of my life where I've been really poor. If I don't have enough for free range, then I'll go without. I don't see why I should benefit from another creature's suffering.

AK said...

curiously why try to discredit another producer if your product is good enough it will work on its own merit you dont have to pay someone else out you know

Anonymous said...

Wow Steven,
What happened your blog is usually a nice read, gives me a bit of information and a laugh you usually stay out of the schoolyard bickering
After reading your comments recently I’m left disappointed, this time you may have started the bickering

Firstly you seem to be doing exactly what you accused the abc of doing targeting a producer without letting them have a say, damaging their reputation without getting the facts.

My main concern how ever is that you seem to feel that it fine to mislead the consumer clear labeling laws are in place. If a producer is proud of their product and the way its produced they should be labeling it correctly and letting the consumer be fully informed.
Truth is black and white not a shade of gray.

The pen may be mightier than the sword but in Tasmania the keyboard is a weapon of mass destruction

steve said...

Hi lucy-really nice to hear from you & thanks for commenting.
The points you raise are good ones.
ethical vs 'good' I wish all consumers had the insight & fortitude that you display.

Hello AK-Thanks also for commenting but I'm not sure that I was saying one producer is deriding anonther. I was saying that I know of sentiment out there that suggests that there is an alternative motive behind the thrust of the TV show-If that upsets anyone-perhaps they should take it up with the people who disagree.

Hiya Anon-Thanks for posting your view. I'm glad you are a reader & that you mostly enjoy the content.

I was anticipating a response from this post, though I am surprised that it sound like such an overt reaction from one of the protaganists of the illustration of the issue I raised.

Firstly, anon, what producer are you talking about and what am I not allowing them to respond to?

In what way am I 'starting the bickering' as you say?

Please explain how reporting a range of opinions on this blog as told to me personally constitutes 'starting the bickering'?

Perhaps you are uneasy with a differing of opinion to your own?

It would be instructive for you to name yourself as the interested party that you appear to be, then we could have a meaningful dialologue.

We all know an anonymous opinion counts for not much as the negative tirades in the Mercury can attest

Failing that, I have your ISP signature so I can pretty well assume who you are.

As to your statements, you'll find that regarding the point of misleading labelling issues, I'm all for telling the truth, as my last post indicates.

What I will never apologise for is the fact that if someone has a grievence with the way another business operates & goes straight to a third party, in this case the ABC, without exhausting all avenues of communication, then yes I have a problem with that.

It shows good form & respect to take the time to research & at the very least shows manners to give the business with whom your grievenece is targeted, a moment to actually respond & perhaps recitify the issue.

You have not done that by your own admission.

As I said, I would not have handled this issue that way you have & someone needed to say this in the public domain.

You know what? Even though it might not be nice to hear from your point of view, I feel good about saying it.

I, at least am standing by MY convictions & not hiding behind a veil of anonimity plus I am loyal to my friends.

Anonymous said...

On Yas Stev0- dont let thos special interest foodie groups in Tassie fool everyone-Always do tyhe right thing-Karma will come !

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi Steve
Do you remember my post on Angel Cardoso? Below was where I got the facts for the last part of it.
This may ring some alarm bells.
Sorry about the length of the comment its from the ABC Rural DEc 2007.

When you're buying your Christmas ham this year, Australian pig farmers want you to be sure you're getting a true blue Aussie ham.

Australian Pork Limited has raised alarm bells about a processed ham, which it strongly suspects combines the meat of a Canadian pig, with the bone of an Australian pig.

It is being marketed as "ham on the bone" in some supermarkets.

APL refused to name the company concerned, but ABC Rural understands the product is marketed by KR Castlemaine.

APL chief executive, Andrew Spencer, says while the hams may not be breaking any labelling laws, they could be misleading Aussie consumers, and local pork producers are considering action.

"Well we are, and thinking as a consumer, if I see a piece of ham with a bone in it, I assume it's real ham on the bone, with the bone and the ham coming from the same animal," he says.

"And I don't think it's any way to treat your customers, to deceive them like that.

"It's no way to treat Australian pig producers either, because they're trying to make a dollar.

"They're trying to give Australian consumers a choice to know when they are buying Australian, to be able to say, go and buy ham on the bone, because then you will know it's Australian and this is really a bit of a cheap way around that."

KR Castlemaine strongly rejects claims that's it trying to mislead consumers with its processed hams.

Company chief executive, Mike Adams, says they're not breaking any labelling laws, and the processed hams look distinctly different from a traditional Aussie leg ham.

He doesn't think consumers will care that the meat on the ham is from Canada, while the bone could be from an Australian pig.

Mr Adams says these hams represent just three per cent of the 600,000 they'll put on the shelves this Christmas, but he does admit this is the first time imported meat has been used.

"We put the bone in it because it gives part of the flavour to the meat, and in terms of packaging and labelling, I mean, how would consumers feel, if they bought this product and then opened it up to find it had a bone inside, to find we hadn't told them there was a bone inside and thus the labelling," he says.

"There is no intention on our behalf to pretend that it's anything other than what it is.

"It's clearly labelled as what it is and it doesn't say that it's a fully cured ham and it doesn't look like your normal Christmas ham, so it's quite different in both its colour and shape.

"It's labelled as being spiral cut, it's labelled as manufactured, it's not intended to be misleading and I think, from the people's point of view, they have said that we have labelled it correctly, so what else can we do?"

"I don't think that people will be that concerned about it."

Anonymous said...

Hay anon lay off already-Steve Sez-

"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."

That good enough for ya?

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, first time i have said anything actualyy--Just want to say that I don't like being dictated to on my food purchases. I like buying the ethical produce when I can afford it but most often I cant & regular meat has to suffice... I am a bit tired of hearing from people who make me feel bad because I dont buy their produce because it isn't green ticked-what about priced ticked I ask?

Anonymous said...

This issue has left me restless and unable to sleep now for a number of nights, I have just spent the last two hours a 2am writing a comment to post but it just topped three pages and I think it will bore too many people so I will keep it breif, I was also contacted by the said ABC reporter to make comment, at first I was willing but after a sleepless night and seeking advice from a respected friend that confirmed what I knew in my heart was right I have sinced declined to comment and as more has come to light over the last few days the alarm bells were right and I'm glad I did. There is more to this issue than meets the eye from every angle.
I hope you all have clean cupboards and your motivations are sound, this is a persons livings you could destroy trust me I know I've had it happen doing the right thing.

steve said...

thanks to everyone who commented. Cheers for that bit of info George-the attitude of the Castlemaine ham bloke was especially ironic!

I'v since learned that the two parties have finally spoken to each other & efforts are now being made to address the labelling issues which is a good thing for all concerned.

irate of Sandy Bay said...

I think we need a jewish perspective.

sir grumpy said...

Castlemaine riled me this week when i picked up one of their bacon packs thinking it was one of the ``bred free range''. It wasn't but you have to look closely.
I will in future.
PS I hope archaeologists don't find a Canadian ham with an ozzie bone thousands of years from now. It could rewrite history.