Avoid factory-farmed pork
The message is simple; use the power of your purse to buy from farms, not factories.
Ask for high-welfare pork at the supermarket or butcher, or better still shop at local farmers’ markets as both you and the farmer get a fair price and your money stays in the local economy.
Trying to understand where our pork products have come from and the methods by which the meat was produced can be very confusing. This is because there are two major problems with the current labelling system:
- UK law does not demand that the labels state the country that the animal has come from. This means that without knowing it, we buy meat products with animal welfare standards that would be illegal in the UK.
- There are no legal definitions to describe the various methods of pig production such as free range, indoor bred, etc. This makes it very difficult for consumers to know the conditions under which their meat was produced.
The first problem: country of origin labelling
British pig welfare standards are among the highest in the world, but around 70% of the pork in the UK has been imported from countries with welfare conditions which would illegal on UK farms. It is often impossible to tell from the label which country the pork comes from or the welfare standards for the pigs.
EU legislation and World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules state that, food can be labelled with the country in which it was last processed. So imported pigs raised under crueller conditions elsewhere and imported to the UK for slaughter could be processed into sausages or ready meals and quite legally be labelled as ‘British’.
Recommendations from the Food Standards Agency (FSA)
The FSA argues that a strict application of WTO labelling principles could be misleading for consumers. In October 2008, the FSA recommended that for meat other than beef and veal (which have their own rules) a single country origin should only be given where animals have been born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. Otherwise the countries of birth, rearing and slaughter should be named.
For example, the FSA recommends that pork sausages made in Britain using pork from countries outside the UK should not be described as ‘British pork sausages’ but could be described as ‘made in Britain from Polish pork’, or ‘made in Britain from pork from more than one country’.
The second problem: ‘method of production labelling’
Despite the fact that the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in Europe, a large proportion of UK meat is produced using intensive methods that allow for teeth clipping, tail docking and cramped conditions (see ‘Animal Welfare’ section for more information).
People who care about the methods used in rearing pigs will want to know if their pig meat was produced using farrowing crates or other cruel methods. They may want to choose between different types of production methods such as free range, outdoor bred, outdoor reared, and so on.
However, they will find it difficult. While there are legal definitions to describe the various methods of egg and chicken production, there are currently no such regulations for pigs.
While we wait for new legislation on pork labelling, the RSPCA, in conjunction with pig industry representatives, is in the process of developing a set of definitions for different pig production methods. These will include ‘free range’, ‘outdoor reared’, ‘outdoor bred’, ‘indoor’, ‘barn’ and ‘British Farm Standard’ in the hope that the pig industry and retailers will follow this example and incorporate these terms into their labelling.
Below you will find information on three of the most commonly used standards for UK meat products. There is huge variety between these standards so it is important to understand the differences:
The Soil Association Organic Standard provides strict animal welfare and environmental standards. This organic standard is one of the highest in the world.
- Housing: Pigs must be able to express their natural behaviour; this includes being kept in family groups with free access to fields when conditions allow. In severe weather conditions, indoor housing is permitted as long as there is plenty of straw bedding and continued outdoor access.
- Farrowing crates: Banned
- Tail docking: Banned
- Nose ringing: Banned
- Weaning: No earlier than 40 days, much later than the standard 3-4 weeks
For more information visit: www.soilassociation.org
Freedom Food is the RSPCA’s labelling and assurance scheme dedicated to improving welfare standards for farm animals. The scheme covers both indoor and outdoor rearing systems and ensures that greater space and bedding material are provided.
- Housing: All classes, ages and sizes of pigs must have solid, bedded lying areas
- Bedding: Slatted lying areas are prohibited, all pigs must have bedding provided.
- Feeding space: Minimum feeder space is specified along with the requirement of the provision of head barriers to separate pigs while they are feeding to avoid bullying and aggression.
- Farrowing crates: Permitted up to 5 days after birth only.
- Nesting: Farrowing sows must be given suitable bedding that allows nesting behaviour.
- Tail docking: Permitted only if there is evidence that injuries have occurred or are likely to occur otherwise. Must obtain permission from vet and RSPCA before procedure carried out.
- Nose ringing: Permitted only if there is evidence that injuries or mortality to pigs have occurred or are likely. Must obtain permission from vet and RSPCA before procedure carried out.
For more information visit: www.freedomfood.co.uk
The Red Tractor Assured Food Standards scheme – backed by the National Farmers’ Union and the UK food industry – assures consumers that a meat product complies with UK minimum legal requirements. Although entitled ’British’ Farm Standard, under EU law it can’t exclude imported products if they meet UK legal standards. However, it is not a guarantee of good animal welfare and allows intensive production.
- Housing: Fully slatted floors are permitted for some classes, ages or sizes of pigs
- Bedding: Bedding is not mandatory for all pigs.
- Feeding space: Specified at legal minimum.
- Farrowing crates: Permitted for up to 28 days after birth
- Nesting: No nesting material or bedding specified for indoor sows.
- Tail docking: Permission required from vet; necessity of practice must be regularly reviewed.
- Nose ringing: Only to prevent damage to paddocks or where soil type could lead to injury.
Other stores might have their own standards which can be higher than some of the above schemes; e.g. Waitrose and M&S own-brand meat and poultry generally have a higher standard of welfare while the Co-op has just converted its Truly Irresistible pork, bacon and sausage ranges to Freedom Food-accredited outdoor reared Hampshire breed pork. Stores such as Whole Foods Market have their own labelling system with good welfare standards.
Consumers who want quality pork, for instance, from a UK supermarket must look for labels saying outdoor bred and reared, free range or organic. Pork with these labels has been raised on high welfare farms, almost certainly in the UK, which means the animals have not been given routine doses of antibiotics which are needed to keep them alive in stressful, overcrowded factory farms and will not have been mixed with any other product.
These pigs are born outside, in fields where they are kept until they are weaned. Breeding sows are kept in fields for their productive lives. Where soil types and climate might be problematic, pregnant sows can be housed for a defined and limited period in groups on deep straw bedding. They are provided with food, water and shelter with generous minimum space allowances.
These pigs are born outside in fields, where they are kept for about half their lives. Breeding sows are kept outside in fields for their productive lives. They are provided with food, water and shelter and generous minimum space allowances.
These pigs are born outside, in fields and they remain outside until they are sent for slaughter. They are provided with food, water and shelter and are free to roam within defined boundaries. Free range pigs have very generous minimum space allowances, which are worked out according to the soil conditions and rotation practices of the farm. Breeding sows are also kept outside, in fields for their productive life.
Organic pigs are kept in conditions that, as far as possible, allow them to express their natural behaviour. This includes being kept in family groups with free access to fields when conditions allow. In practice this means that most organic pigs will be outdoors all year round, though indoor housing is permitted in severe weather conditions, provided that there is plenty of straw bedding for the pigs, and continued access to an outdoor run.
There are nine different organisations which can give organic certification. They are:
- Organic Farmers and Growers: www.organicfarmers.org.uk
- Scottish Organic Producers Association: www.sopa.org.uk
- Organic Food Federation: www.orgfoodfed.com
- Soil Association Certification: www.soilassociation.org/certification
- Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association: www.biodynamic.org.uk
- Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association: www.iofga.org
- Organic Trust Limited: www.organic-trust.org
- Quality Welsh Food Certification: email email@example.com
- Ascisco: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumers can also find high welfare pork at farmers’ markets or small butchers who can vouch for the origin of the meat. Buying in this fully transparent way ensures that the pig has not been tortured before you eat it, that you are paying a fair price and that your money stays in the locality, thus helping to preserve farming skills and vibrant rural communities.
You can find farmers’ markets and local butchers by using these useful websites:
- Big Barn: www.bigbarn.co.uk
- Local Food Advisor: www.localfoodadvisor.com
- Local Foods: www.localfoods.org.uk