Coles’ HGP-free beef, RSPCA chicken, sow stall-free pork

coles sow stall pork rspca chicken hgp beef

In Chef Curtis Stone, more than just a cardboard cut-out (Good Food 2015), the author wonders why Curtis associates himself with Coles. Curtis says that he believes he can make a difference, to help the supermarket make “better decisions”. He points to Coles’ elimination of beef with hormone growth promotants (HGP), RSPCA-accredited chicken, and sow stall-free pork.

Like all Coles’ communications, you have to see where they are pointing, then look the other way. What they don’t say is often more interesting than what they do.

HGPs are benign on the things-to-worry-about scale; it’s a Coles marketing ploy. Concern yourself with grain-fed beef, produced from cattle in a feedlot. According to the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association, this is 80 percent of beef sold in major domestic supermarkets.

So Coles’ brand chicken is RSPCA-accredited—big whoopee! They’re grown indoors in cavernous sheds, with up to 15.9 birds per square metre, ready for dinner in as little as 35 days. And no, they don’t “taste better” because grown in record time, with that feed, they don’t have any taste. At all.

Sow stall-free pork is a positive initiative, yet the sow will still be confined to a farrowing crate for the birth and until the piglets are weaned. And the pork that you eat comes from the piglets, grown intensively, indoors.

Here’s to grass-fed and -finished beef, genuine free range or pastured pork and chicken. Buy from a farmer so you can have a conversation about how the livestock was grown, read their website or source from a trusted butcher. Both are well-versed in “secondary” cuts, much more delicious, and more affordable than the primary. Great ones share their philosophy of eating less, but better meat.

Farmers’ markets are a good bet.

However Curtis says, “Some people can afford to go to a farmers’ market and buy everything organic and some people don’t have that option. You can have a really beautiful philosophy and talk to a tiny segment of the population, or you can look at the corporations that have a loud voice and get in there.”

Farmers’ markets provide access to fresh, local and seasonal food. Customers are exposed to a wider variety of food, are given the opportunity to learn about how food is produced, and how to use it. They believe the produce tastes better, lasts longer, and allows them to support the local community, local businesses and the environment; it’s about good value and values. They aren’t a “tiny segment of the population”, a national poll last year reported 14 percent of the respondents shopped for fruit and vegetables at farmers’ markets. Buying outside of supermarkets means people can avoid the price, promotion and advertising that encourages impulse buys and bulk purchases, especially of the unhealthy, ultra-processed kind.

Furthermore, people can source local food in various ways to suit their needs. Let me recount them: grow-your-own, forage, gift, barter, swap, boxed meat, buying club, community supported agriculture (CSA), herd share, pick your own, co-operative, farm store, food hub, vege box, greengrocer, butcher, fromagerie, bakery, fishmonger, delis, community markets, general and wholefood stores. Communities are actively developing their own healthy and strong food supply because they can’t rely on Coles, industrial food, long supply chains and the like.

As for seasonality, Stephanie Alexander promotes gardening and cooking amongst children; the next generation won’t be shopping for out-of-season oranges at Coles!

But why are you talking about fresh food, when proselytizing Coles? Supermarkets are the largest source of industry sales for manufacturers of soft drink (55%), chocolate and confectionery (60.8%), with additional sales through wholesalers; they are second only to grocery wholesalers for snacks (33.1%). Approximately 30 percent of total shelf-space in Coles (and Woolworths’) full-line stores are allocated to discretionary food, more than supermarkets in seven other countries, studies found.

I’m on a horse!

So I call bollocks. Curtis, instead of getting into bed with Coles, why not strengthen the alternative? Hmmm?!

The Good Food article elevated Coles’ beef positioning by aligning the product with a chef—look the other way—it’s an attempt to distract from the rising price of beef, due to high export demand and low supply.

By the way, this doesn’t affect the beef you buy at farmers’ markets, from box schemes, CSAs and the like. We’re secure in our food; the bonus is a healthy community, farmers rewarded fairly, and a delicious food supply.


6 Responses to Coles’ HGP-free beef, RSPCA chicken, sow stall-free pork

  1. Ed says:

    Nice post and it just shows what a lot of bollocks is spouting.

    1. Sharon says:

      Cheers Ed!

  2. Completely agree Sharon. These celebrity chefs are just a diversionary tactic for the duopoly. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For someone who used to teach at Jamie’s Ministry of Food and was proud to be apart of the food revolution, Jamie Oliver in bed with Woolworths particularly makes me cringe. Of course all advertising is manipulative but using ‘chef’s we can trust’ (they must endorse ethical eating practices!) is disgraceful. They have absolutely zero credibility in my books.

    1. Sharon says:

      I feel for you Jem – Jamie in particular does smart – many feel the same way.

  3. I was disappointed too, particularly with Curtis’ comment about RSPCA chicken. Consumers need to question whether the small increase in price for RSPCA chicken reflects sustainable welfare improvement. I for one would not be surprised or point the blame at the industry if they were to increase their stocking density when not expecting RSPCA audits.

    The welfare concern of fast growing meat chicken genetics has not been addressed in our RSPCA approved chicken. The RSPCA in the U.K. will only approve slower growing meat chickens strains, but the Australian conventional meat chicken industry only imports fast growing strains.

    One of the welfare issues associated with fast growing meat chickens that is often not considered is the management of the parent birds. These birds are restrictively fed to be able to maintain an appropriate body weight for breeding. My husband managed parent birds during his time in the conventional chicken industry, and they used a practice called “skip a day”, which meant the birds were fed every second day. There was reasoning behind this, but needless to say things did not look pretty on feeding day. The birds were so ravenous that the most aggressive would gorge at the trough and collapse, whilst my husband ran around the shed with a syringe to inject water directly into their crop, trying desperately to save them.

    The Australian RSPCA have stated they are “encouraging the chicken meat industry to look at breeding slower growing birds which will help improve bird welfare”, but I now struggle to see how they are encouraging this. What I do see is consumers’ believing that chicken welfare is all sorted, and still nice and cheap. I see celebrity chefs like Curtis encouraging them in this belief, and I see the RSPCA making money from their farming scheme. Why on earth would our conventional chicken industry bother with slower growing meat chicken strains now, especially when they would only increase their production costs?

    1. Sharon says:

      It’s ludicrous that Australian operations can be RSPCA-accredited with fast growing broilers, when UK ones cannot. The genetics are the root of so many health issues. I’ve asked them your question on Twitter, but I doubt they’ll reply.

      I feel equally sorry for the chooks and the workers.

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