Who cares about animal welfare? Not our customers, says British retail Consortium

by 5m Editor
14 September 2004, at 12:00am

UK - The magnitude of the uphill struggle facing British pig producers in their fight for honest labelling is illustrated by the British Retail Consortium's negative stance on animal welfare. It believes the vast majority of shoppers have no interest in animal welfare. And it claims its retailer members are already providing "honest and open" labelling.


National Pig Association

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & Whitehall, and with processors, supermarkets & caterers - fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

The British pig industry disputes both claims. A recent survey* for the British Pig Executive found seventy percent of pork coming into the country breaches British animal welfare law and over 90 percent of consumers are unhappy about this.

And the industry has a growing rogue's gallery of misleading labels, where the claims made on the packaging fail to comply with the spirit of the law because they give the impression the contents are British and therefore from pigs raised to Britain's higher welfare standards.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council, which is financed by Defra, is currently investigating labelling and its impact on animal welfare.

The British Retail Consortium has told the council there is no need for mandatory welfare labelling. It says, "Retailers know their customers and therefore know that most have little interest in seeing the labelling regulations extended."

The British pig herd has shrunk 40 percent over the past five years as retailers import ever larger quantities of cheaper, lower-welfare pork.

Pig producers are united in their astonishment, therefore, at finding the British Retail Consortium arguing that welfare labelling could lead to an exporting of British production and could even have an adverse overall affect on animal welfare.

"The picture they paint in their submission to the Farm Animal Welfare Council is simply not one that we recognise," said PorkWatch chairman, pig producer Richard Lister. "Nor, I suspect, is it one that many shoppers would recognise."

NPA will be submitting its own report to the council. It will stress that the British pig herd will continue to come under pressure unless honest labelling is introduced to supermarket shelves.

In common with other farmers, pig producers have been urged by government to stop blaming their lack of profitability on retailers and to concentrate instead on differentiating their higher-quality product. "How you differentiate a whole industry in the current situation where we cannot label adequately is beyond me," said one producer today.

Misleading Labelling British pig producers are deeply unhappy about supermarket use of tertiary brands. These are brands that dress up foreign pork as British. (See illustration right - this "Suffolk Crown" bacon comes from pigs that never saw Britain when they were alive, leave alone Suffolk.) Many producers take the view that both the Food Standards Agency and Trading Standards are failing to take sufficiently robust action against such sleight-of-hand marketing.

In its response to the Farm Animal Welfare consultation, NPA will voice concern that an EU review of labelling rules may not be complete for another six years. "There is a great need to clearly distinguish between pigmeat produced to UK legal requirements and that produced to EU or third country requirements," said NPA policy manager Ann Petersson today.

Given the precarious state of the British pig industry, pig producers want the Farm Animal Welfare Council to recommend the introduction of mandatory welfare labelling.

They point out that the absence of honest labelling has driven more than half of Britain's pig producers out of business over the past five years and the situation will not improve unless government intervenes or retailers genuinely abide by the NPA's recently introduced voluntary labelling code.

Although European pig welfare laws are due to be reinforced in 2013, they will not involve an outright ban on keeping pigs in stalls, a practice that has been outlawed in the UK since 1999.

* TNS was commissioned to conduct a survey of 1,502 British consumers. The results showed 92 percent of consumers do not want imported pork that falls below British standards.

Source: By Digby Scott, National Pig Association - 13th September 2004

5m Editor