Helping Shoppers out of 'Pig Ignorance'

UK - Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and TV chef, Jamie Oliver, are joining forces in a campaign to improve the welfare of pigs.
calendar icon 12 January 2009
clock icon 6 minute read

Most people are 'pig ignorant' when it comes to food labelling on pork products, according to a new poll commissioned by the RSPCA.

The results reveal only a staggering two per cent of those questioned understand the terms used on pork products such as 'outdoor bred' or 'free range', meaning almost all shoppers are confused about the conditions in which pigs are actually reared.

The RSPCA is today launching its 'Rooting for Pigs' campaign, calling on supermarkets and other UK food retailers to work with it to develop and sign up to a voluntary labelling agreement because there are currently no set definitions for pork product labelling.

"We think it is essential that all pig meat be clearly and consistently labelled to allow consumers to make an informed choice," said Dr Julia Wrathall, head of RSPCA farm animal science. "This survey shows animal welfare is important to more than eight out of ten people when they're out shopping, even in these hard economic times, and shoppers often seek out specifically-labelled products purely because they want to support certain farming practices"

Dr Wrathall added, "It may come as a surprise but there are actually no industry-wide agreed definitions when it comes to labelling, in complete contrast to eggs and chickens that do have legal definitions at EU level for terms such as 'free range'. We need clearer labelling, and under a system which makes sense to everyone."

Pigs are highly intelligent and inquisitive animals that often outdo dogs in learning tests. They are often rated as the fourth most intelligent animal, behind primates, dolphins and elephants and there are concerns that many of the 160 million pigs reared annually for meat in the EU are raised in conditions that the public would think horrifying if applied to any of these other species.

The RSPCA is now calling on retailers to join with the Society and the British pig industry to develop, and then apply agreed definitions for the terms they use when labelling pork products. The charity is also asking the public to show their support by signing a pig petition on its special web site and by buying the highest welfare pork they can afford.

Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has also been working with the RSPCA, and will lead the debate on pig welfare in his new programme 'Jamie Saves our Bacon' - due to be aired as part of Channel 4's 'Great British Food Fortnight' on 29 January.

Jamie said, "I very much support the RSPCA's 'Rooting For Pigs' campaign as I think that the public needs clearer labelling when it comes to meat, particularly pork and bacon as the variation in pig welfare across Europe and the world is so diverse."

"How many people outside of the industry know the difference between outdoor-bred and outdoor-reared, for example? Not many," he added.

Other survey findings included:

  • 83 per cent agreed or strongly agree that "animal welfare is an important consideration when buying pork".
  • While more than half (60 per cent) of respondents said they always bought higher welfare pork (RSPCA Freedom Food, free range or organic), nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they did not because they "didn't know much about how the pigs are reared".
  • A further 19 per cent said the labelling of pork products was too confusing/absent to allow them to make an informed choice.

Room for Improvement

Later in the year the RSPCA will be calling for a proper review of welfare issues within the EU and UK pig industry and lobbying for a legal requirement within the EU to ensure agreed definitions are complied with when using labelling terms such as free range or outdoor bred/reared on pork products.

"The pig industry has been one of the most proactive of all the UK livestock sectors in seeking ways to progress the health and welfare of the animals it produces, and many UK pigs are reared under good welfare standards throughout their lives," said Dr Wrathall.

"However, even in the UK where the law and industry practices go beyond EU legal requirement in key welfare areas, some pigs are still kept in ways that fail to meet their needs. This means that at the moment, of the nine million pigs raised for meat in the UK each year, there is still a significant number that are living out their lives in unacceptable conditions."

If consumers want to support higher welfare production through their purchases, they should look out for pig meat labelled with the Freedom Food logo, says the RSPCA. Freedom Food is the RSPCA's farm animal welfare assurance scheme which aims to ensure that animals are reared, handled, transported and slaughtered according to welfare standards developed and monitored by the Society.

Pigs: 'the New Chickens'

Separate campaigns led by the RSPCA and celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in January 2008 highlighted some of the welfare problems of chicken production. Since then, and despite of the difficult economic climate, higher welfare chicken sales have jumped significantly

In fact an RSPCA poll conducted since the campaign showed that an amazing 73 per cent of consumers said that since recently discovering standard chickens were farmed in poor conditions, they now buy chickens that have had a better life.

It is hoped that Jamie's programme and the RSPCA campaign will have a similarly positive impact on the lives of the many millions of pigs reared for meat in the UK and beyond.

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