Free-range pork products are misleading Australian consumers this Christmas.

If you’re looking to put some free-range pork on your fork this holiday, you may find yourself paying up to 600% more for misleading products.

An Australian review has found a lack of consistency in free-range pork and turkey labelling, which means consumers have fat chance of knowing whether a free-range claim meets their expectations, and are paying for the difference regardless.

“There’s currently no legally binding definition of free-range ham in Australia, and producers appear to be making their own decisions about what free-range means,” said Tom Godfrey, CHOICE Head of Media.

“It is estimated that 97% of the 4.8 million pigs produced in Australia are raised indoors in intensive housing, sometimes referred to as ‘factory farms’. Only the remaining three per cent is free-range or organic.”

The closest we have to an official definition comes from the national Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pork. This sets out minimum farming standards with which all producers must comply.

While it “recommends” stocking densities for outdoor sows and boars, there are no limits to the stocking density of meat pigs kept outside in paddocks. As long as an animal has access to the outdoors it can be called free-range – regardless of stocking densities or welfare conditions.

The lack of a legally binding standard means regulating free-range claims falls to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has the power to investigate complaints about misleading free-range labelling.

This news comes just weeks after NSW Fair Trading responded to CHOICE’s super complaint about shonky free-range egg claims, announcing it would be pushing for a nationally enforceable standard for ‘free-range’ eggs under Australian Consumer Law.

“Much like free-range eggs claims, the labelling of ham is scrambled and requires nationally consistent and enforceable standard for free-range to stop consumers being misled.”

Product  Cost per kilo Percentage increase on cheapest standard non-free range whole ham
Aldi’s Australian Half Leg Ham $6.49 0%
Woolworths Ham Whole $6.99 7.7%
Coles Full Leg Hams $7 7.9%
Coles Double Smoked Full Leg Hams $9 38.7%
Aldi’s Australian Leg Ham Portion $8.49 30.8%
Free-Range/ Organic
Coles Finest Triple Smoked Half Leg Ham (Australian Free-Range) $12.50 92.6%
The Free Range Butcher’s Easy Carve Pasture Fed Free-Range Ham – Whole Leg $29.99 362%
Pasture Perfect’s All Natural Free-Range Ham $28.50 339%
Pasture Perfect’s Organic bone-in leg ham $46.50 616%
Aldi’s Berg Provedore Free-Range gourmet ham $12.00 84.8%

1 A CHOICE shadow of free-range, standard and organic ham was conducted during the week of 16-20 December, 2013. Large retailers such as Aldi, Coles and Woolworths were price checked, as well as gourmet meat outlets.