Pastured pork is hard to find
You probably all knew this, but apparently today is World Salami Day. In my humble opinion, every day is World Salami Day and you can catch me and my equally-gluttonous colleagues furtively scoffing cured pork products here most days. But if the people who decide these things want to make a fuss about today, who am I to object?
The only thing I insist on is that my salami is made from slow-growing, pasture-raised pigs and, let me tell you, this is harder than it should be. Think about it this way.
Around 3% of Australian pigs are raised outside on pasture, healthy and free to do their piggy thing. Between 50-75% of most pigs are cured for ham, bacon, salami etc. Which means that, at most, only about 2% of the cured pork sold in restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, butchers and delis is made from pasture-raised pork.
The remaining 98% of cured pork products in Australia are made from intensively-raised pork, either locally-grown or imported. Pigs squashed together inside on concrete, restricted, medicated and definitely not free to do their piggy thing.
Who wants to eat that?
A small percentage of cured pork products are made from 'free range' pork that comes from pigs raised in fixed, open-sided 'eco shelters' on straw.
We've been ranting about the definition of 'free range' for almost 10 years now and I'll never be able to view the proposition that an animal raised inside a shed can be called 'free range' as anything but ridiculous, patronising, exploitative lunacy. But the peak industry body, Australian Pork Limited, has, with the interests of the biggest commercial growers clearly in mind, declared that pigs kept inside 'eco shelters' can be labelled and sold as 'free range', thereby giving these growers a distinct market advantage.
This 'free range' production method is definitely preferable to the intensive version. At least these pigs have some access to daylight and weather and some operations even open the sides of these shelters so pigs have access to an attached field. But, if you've ever seen genuine free range pigs on pasture, you'll know that they're hard wearing on their environments and they don't take long to up-end a verdant field in their search for food and entertainment. Any field with pigs continually living on it will quickly lose all plants and become dust in dry conditions and mud in the wet. This is very bad for the field and pretty dull for the pigs.
Animals on farms need to be rotated across pastures so they have access to fresh soil and green pick, to keep things interesting and to allow the pastures the recover after the animals. It's much more work for the farmer to run a farm this way but it's the only way to raise healthy soil and healthy animals and guarantee sustainable outcomes.
Implicit in the term 'pasture-raised animals' is the long term vision, hard work and commitment to sustainable soil, plant, animal and human fertility that these farmers undertake on our behalf.
This is why we make such a song and dance about 'pasture-raised animals' and why we urge you to ask LOTS of questions when you're out and about eating cured pork products. The more you ask for and insist on pastured pork, the more you're pressuring food purveyors to search it out and support a better system.
In the meantime, support us, the farms we represent and invest in the long term fertility of our soils by buying your pork products from us!