The facts

Making sense of pork, bacon and ham labels

Making sense of pork, bacon and ham labels

How much do you really know about how pork, bacon and ham are produced in Australia? We've demystified the process in no-nonsense terms to help you make truly informed choices.

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What does the label really tell you about the way pigs raised for meat are treated?

94 percent of Australian pork comes from pigs confined in factory farms1, where they are afforded no quality of life whatsoever. With increased community awareness about the cruelty of factory farming, the lives led by these animals are becoming an increasingly important consideration in purchasing decisions.

With no consistent or legally enforceable definitions for pig production systems in Australia, it's not easy to understand what the various logos and terms on packaging mean. Below we have attempted to demystify pork production and in doing so assist more people to make kinder choices.

NOTE: Current demand for pork, bacon and ham in Australia can only be met by factory farming. But this demand never would have existed if people knew the truth about how animals are being treated. Now that you know, the power is in your hands. Refusing factory farmed products is an important first step. But to end factory farming, animals urgently need caring consumers to also make the choice to consume less animal products. Every person who replaces some or all of the pork, bacon and ham they eat with animal-friendly alternatives helps reduce the demand that has forced animals to be so intensively farmed, bringing pigs a step closer to a world without factory farming.

Certification systems included in the table:

  • RSPCA Approved Farming (RSPCA)
  • Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ)
  • Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
  • Humane Choice is a free range accreditation program from the Humane Society International Australia (Humane Choice)
  • Organic Food Chain (OFC)
  • National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA)
  • Organic Growers of Australia (OGA)
  • Demeter is the certification label for Bio-Dynamic produce (Demeter)
Note: If the production system isn't specified on the packaging, the pig was almost certainly factory farmed.

Factory farmed RSPCA Approved Indoor2 APIQ
Certified Outdoor Bred/ Certified Bred Free Range
RSPCA Approved Outdoor 'Bred Free Range' 3 APIQ
Certified Free Range4
Humane Choice
Certified Free Range4
RSPCA Approved Outdoor 'Free Range' 4 Certified organic5
Can pregnant mother pigs be kept in sow crates?6 Yes
No No No No No No No
How much space needs to be provided to a pregnant pig in group housing? 1.4m2 3.5m2 Free to roam outside Free to roam outside Free to roam outside Free to roam outside Free to roam outside Free to roam outside
Are mother pigs and their piglets kept in farrowing crates?7 Yes No No No No No No No
Are mother pigs provided bedding material for nest building in farrowing pens required? No
(kept in crates)
Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Is cutting of piglets' tails allowed? Yes No Yes No Yes No No No
Is clipping of piglets' teeth allowed? Yes No Yes No Yes


No No
Is provision of litter for growing pigs required? No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Is surgical castration of piglets permitted? Yes No Yes No Yes Yes (with anaesthetic) No Yes
Do pigs have access to outdoors? No No Breeding pigs: entire life. Pigs raised for slaughter: until 3-5 weeks old.3 Breeding pigs: entire life. Pigs raised for slaughter: until 3-5 weeks old.3 Yes Yes Yes Yes
What is the minimum indoor space provided to growing pigs?
(based on size, the example given is for a 100kg pigs)
0.66m2 1.03m2 0.66m2 1.03m2 0.66m2 Indoor and outdoor space provided Indoor and outdoor space provided Indoor & Outdoor space provided
Is indoor environmental enrichment provided? No Encouraged No
Encouraged N/A
(outdoor access)
(outdoor access)
(outdoor access)
(outdoor access)
Are mother pigs sent to slaughter when they can no longer get pregnant?** Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Please also consider this:**
  • From as young as 4 months old, pigs are trucked to slaughter.
  • Pigs from free-range and organic farms end their lives in the same slaughterhouses as factory farmed animals.

**Ethical concerns in all pig farming systems

It is important that consumers are aware that there are ethical and welfare issues common to all pig farming systems - including certified free-range and certified organic.

Regardless of the system the pigs are born and raised in, they will be transported and slaughtered in similar facilities at a young age. Whilst pigs would normally live to an average age of about 10 years, pigs destined for slaughter will be killed between 4 and 12 months of age. The mothers used for breeding (sows) are trapped in a cycle of suffering to give birth to as many piglets as possible until her body can no longer physically cope and she is sent to slaughter too - in factory farms this is usually between 2 and 3 years of age.

The transport and slaughter process is inherently stressful for the animals. Herded together in trucks to be transported for often many hours without room to lie down is a traumatic experience. At the abattoirs there is no independent oversight of the slaughter process. And whilst stunning is effective in rendering the animal unconscious before slaughter, in the vast majority of cases even in the most well managed facilities there is always a risk that the stunning procedure may fail. A small percentage of animals may need to be stunned again before losing sensibility, and on rare occasions animals may even 'wake up' during the slaughter process.

As consumers become aware of the ethical issues relating to pig farming and slaughter, more and more are choosing cruelty-free alternatives, which are readily available in most supermarkets.

Making sense of labels

1Figure calculated from Australian Pork Limited Industry Survey 2010, p7

2'RSPCA Approved'
The RSPCA Approved system accredits pig farms to RSPCA standards. Pigs on these farms can be raised in an outdoor system ('free range' or 'bred free range') or indoor system. Pigs in an RSPCA Approved indoor farm have no access to an outdoor area. However, the welfare standards are higher than in conventional factory farms.

3 'Outdoor Bred'/'Bred Free Range'
On 'bred free range' farms or 'outdoor bred' farms, sows and boars range freely outdoors in a free range system. The piglets are born in the free range system and live there until they are weaned (which is normally around 3-5 weeks of age) and are then placed into an indoor system which can be intensive indoor housing (factory farming) or a 'higher welfare' system such as an RSPCA Approved indoor farm.

The following logo accompanied by the description 'bred free range' indicates that the pigs were raised on a certified 'bred free range' or 'outdoor bred' farm.


4 'Certified Free Range'
Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia so standards between farms can vary. These logos indicate that the pigs were raised on a true free range farm.

Free range pork labels

* Note: The RSPCA Approved logo alone does not guarantee outdoor access - you may also find the RSPCA Approved logo on pig products from indoor housing systems (see above). Only products that are also labelled 'free range' contain RSPCA Approved pig products that come from farms where the pigs were raised with access to an outdoor range.

5 'Certified Organic'
Certified organic pig products come from pigs kept on farms which meet and exceed standards in the best free range facilities. However, simply the word 'organic' on packaging can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of pigs meets certified organic standards - when it may simply mean that pigs are fed organic feed. These logos on the packaging indicate that the pigs were raised on a certified organic farm.


6 Sow Stalls
Currently it is legal to confine a mother pig (a breeding sow) for the majority of her life in a tiny individual metal crate required only to be 1cm longer and 1cm wider than her body. From 2017 the use of sow stalls will be limited to six weeks per pregnancy (this is still approximately 12 weeks per year of solitary confinement) by state regulations. Tasmania is going a step further and has pledged to outlaw sow stalls (except for 10 days per gestation) by mid 2013. The Australian pig industry has also promised to phase out sow stalls (except for 11 days per gestation) by 2017. But 1 January 2017 is still far away. Australia's two major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, are already making significant steps to completely remove sow stalls from the supply chain of their own brand products. Coles is leading the way with a commitment to making all its own brand pork, bacon and ham products sow stall free by 2014.

7 Farrowing crates
Whilst steps are being taken to phase out sow stalls, this is not yet the case for even smaller farrowing crates. Just before giving birth, a sows is moved into a metal crates that can legally be as small as 1 square metre, leaving her with virtually no ability to move. Here she has to deliver her babies on a hard concrete or metal floor in the same area that she toilets. Due to her confinement, a mother pig is severely restricted in nurturing and interacting with her young. A sow can legally be confined in a farrowing crate for six weeks per reproductive cycle.

Surgical procedures
Factory farming causes stress and behavioural problems among pigs which can lead to aggression and injury. But rather than give pigs more space to express normal behaviour, factory farm operators subject piglets to painful surgical procedures instead. Their teeth may be cut; their tails may be sliced off - through the bone; and males can be castrated. Many pigs also have slices cut from their ears for identification. All these routine procedures are done without any pain relief.

In certified free range and organic farming the majority of these surgical procedures are unnecessary and forbidden except for individual cases where it is deemed necessary for welfare reasons. The administration of pain relief in such cases is also more common.

Other claims and logos
There are other phrases and logos used on pig products that may be perceived to suggest higher welfare such as 'All Natural', '100% Australian grown pork', 'Australian made', or the 'Australian Pork' logo as depicted below. The majority of these do not signify a higher standard of welfare than factory farmed pig products. If there is no certified free-range, certified organic or RSPCA Approved logo on the packaging, the pigs have almost certainly been raised in factory farms.

For information about labelling on other animal products, see our range of handy guides.

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