The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has concluded investigations into alleged misleading conduct in the pork industry arising from claims such as ‘free range’, ‘bred free range’ and ‘bred outdoors’. The brands in question being Primo Smallgoods, KR Castlemaine and Otway Pork.
"It is important that the description on product packaging and in promotional material accurately reflects the living conditions of the animals raised for the production of meat products. Marketing material must use words that consumers can understand, irrespective of whether the words have some special industry meaning," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
The ACCC has accepted court enforceable undertakings from P&M Quality Smallgoods Pty Ltd (trading as Primo Smallgoods), George Weston Foods Pty Ltd (trading as KR Castlemaine) and Pastoral Pork Company Pty Ltd (trading as Otway Pork) as a result of these investigations.
Defining 'free range' and 'bred free range' terms
In each of these three cases, the ACCC considered that the reference to either 'free range' (used by Primo Small goods) or 'bred free range' (used by Otway Pork and KR Castlemaine) in the promotion and labelling of the pork products was likely to give consumers the overall impression that the pigs were farmed according to free range methods. These methods include that, at a minimum, pigs are able to move about freely in an outdoor paddock on most ordinary days. In fact, this was not the case.
"In the undertakings, the producers have acknowledged that the conduct may have contravened the Australian Consumer Law. In all cases, the producers have committed not to use the same descriptions unless their farming practices are such that, at a minimum, the pigs are able to move about freely in an outdoor paddock on most ordinary days. They have also agreed to implement consumer law compliance programs and publish corrective notices," Mr Sims said.
Australia Pork to alter logo of pork production standard
Separately, Australian Pork Limited has agreed to change the title and logo of one of its pork production standards from "Outdoor Bred" to "Outdoor Bred. Raised indoors on straw". The ACCC considers that the inclusion of the words "Raised indoors on straw" makes it clearer to consumers that the pigs are born outdoors but raised indoors from weaning until slaughter.
The ACCC understands that some traders have used the "Outdoor Bred" and "Bred Free Range" statements to describe the living conditions of the sow, the mother pig, rather than the pigs that are raised and slaughtered for the pork product sold to consumers. The ACCC considers that consumers are unlikely to interpret these marketing statements to refer to the sow and therefore considers that use of these statements in this context is likely to be misleading.
"When claims such as "free range" or "bred free range" are misused, consumers may be misled into paying more for a product feature that doesn't exist," Mr Sims said.
"Competitors are also harmed as legitimate free range producers unfairly lose their competitive advantage. Innovation suffers when consumers and business lose trust in the integrity of claims."