Strange free-range row

2015-07-18 09:36
The Fairfield Dairy billboard outside their farms in Howick that has come under fire for alleged false advertising.

The Fairfield Dairy billboard outside their farms in Howick that has come under fire for alleged false advertising. (Supplied)

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THE NSPCA has launched a crusade against a local dairy farm, pulling at the udders of the advertising authority to get a billboard removed.

In a decision that has left experts baffled, the Advertising ­Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) has ruled that a Midlands-based dairy farm must take down a billboard advertising free-range product — this after an unusual ­complaint by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA).

Although there are no regulations that clearly define what free-range livestock is, Fairfield Dairy, a major dairy producer based in Howick, was ordered to remove a billboard outside its premises depicting two cows that had broken through a wall, with the words “Free Range” alongside.

According to the NSPCA’s Christine Kuch, who lodged the complaint, the organisation questioned the “honesty, substantiation and truthfulness” of the presentation of Fairfield’s billboard.

Although Kuch would not say ­exactly why these merits were questioned, a copy of the ASA’s ruling on the case states there are no protocols registered with the Department of Agriculture or any relevant Act for free-range dairy cattle in South Africa; therefore Fairfield’s claim of selling free-range products “cannot be substantiated”.

According to an expert in the dairy industry, who asked not to be named, any cow that grazes in an outdoor pasture is considered free-range and most, if not all, cows in the province are pasture-grazed. The expert said that although there is no legislation that defines what free-range is, there is an “understanding” that all cows in the country are grazed in a certain way, making them all free-range animals. “This is a clear example as to why more emphasis needs to be put on farming methods by the government. Even though things operate just fine as they are, clear legislation will out these types of issues.”

According to FairField Dairy’s ­Kevin Lang, they believe “100%” that their cows are treated fairly.

“We comply fully with European standards for free-range dairy. We care a lot for the well-being of our cows,” Lang said.

He said the argument stems from the fact that there is no legislation that differentiates what is free-range from what is not, therefore making it difficult to constitute false ­advertising if the differences between the two are not set out.

“This has been part of our stance all along, which is why we are struggling to ­understand why the issue has been escalated to this point,” Lang said.

According to the ASA, Fairfield submitted arguments on the merits of the issue, noting this argument and appointing an independent ­consultant to assess its farming ­conditions. However, the ASA was steadfast in its decision of removing the billboard.

The expert said many companies advertise their products as free range in supermarkets across the country, so he suspected a personal agenda.

However, Kuch said that nobody has been “targeted”.

“The NSPCA considers this a moral victory. Consumers deserve honesty,” Kuch said.

Lang said: “We don’t believe we are falsely advertising at all, and still stand by our claim that our cows are treated in a free-range and humane way.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  dairy industry

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